Film “The Martian” was right, experiment suggests potatoes CAN grow on Mars

From the INTERNATIONAL POTATO CENTER / CENTRO INTERNACIONAL DE LA PAPA and the “do you want fires with that interplanetary travel” department comes this interesting finding that I thought worth sharing for the sheer novelty of it. In case you’ve never seen the movie “The Martian“, our intrepid space castaway, played by Matt Damon, is able to survive long enough until a rescue mission can be launched by growing potatoes in Martian soil.

Indicators show potatoes can grow on Mars

CubeSat-contained environment experiment underway

The International Potato Center (CIP) launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions and thereby prove they are also able to grow in extreme climates on Earth. This Phase Two effort of CIP’s proof of concept experiment to grow potatoes in simulated Martian conditions began on February 14, 2016 when a tuber was planted in a specially constructed CubeSat contained environment built by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima based upon designs and advice provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Ames Research Center (NASA ARC), California. Preliminary results are positive.

The Potatoes on Mars project was conceived by CIP to both understand how potatoes might grow in Mars conditions and also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from climate change and weather shocks are already experiencing.

“Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment,” says Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute who has worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) and now works at UTEC in Lima. “If the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions that we are exposing them to in our CubeSat, they have a good chance to grow on Mars. We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. “We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive,” he said.

The CubeSat houses a container holding soil and the tuber. Inside this hermetically sealed environment the CubeSat delivers nutrient rich water, controls the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Sensors constantly monitor these conditions and live streaming cameras record the soil in anticipation of the potato sprouting. Live streams of the experiment can be viewed at or by going to the CIP website at

According to CIP potato breeder Walter Amoros, one advantage potato great genetic capacity for adaptation to extreme environments. CIP has tapped into that capacity by breeding potato clones that tolerate conditions such as soil salinity and drought, in order to help smallholder farmers grow food in marginal areas that could grow harsher under climate change.

In 2016, CIP brought Mars analog soil from the Pampas de La Joya desert in Southern Peru to its experimental station in La Molina, Lima. There CIP was able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilized Earth soil for both nutrition and structure.

“We have been looking at the very dry soils found in the southern Peruvian desert. These are the most Mars-like soils found on Earth.” Chris McKay of NASA ARC. “This [research] could have a direct technological benefit on Earth and a direct biological benefit on Earth,” says Chris McKay of NASA ARC.

From the initial experiment, CIP scientists concluded that future Mars missions that hope to grow potatoes will have to prepare soil with a loose structure and nutrients to allow the tubers to obtain enough air and water to allow it to tuberize.

“It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we’ve bred to tolerate abiotic stress were able to produce tubers in this soil,” Amoros said. He added that one of the best performing varieties was very salt-tolerant from the CIP breeding program for adaptation to subtropical lowlands with tolerance to abiotic stress that was also recently released as a variety in Bangladesh for cultivation in coastal areas with high soil salinity.

Amoros noted that whatever their implications for Mars missions, the experiments have already provided good news about potato’s potential for helping people survive in extreme environments on Earth.

“The results indicate that our efforts to breed varieties with high potential for strengthening food security in areas that are affected, or will be affected by climate change, are working,” he said.

The Potatoes on Mars project has been conducted by CIP with the advice of NASA ARC and construction of the CubeSat technology was done by student engineers and their advisors at UTEC. NASA and UTEC scientist Julio Valdivia-Silva collaborated extensively with teams of UTEC and CIP scientists on both phases of this experiment. He identified the soil from Pampas de La Joya desert and led the effort to construct the sophisticated CubeSat.


The International Potato Center, known by its Spanish acronym CIP, was founded in 1971 as a root and tuber research-for-development institution delivering sustainable solutions to the pressing world problems of hunger, poverty, and climate change. CIP is truly a global center, with headquarters in Lima, Peru and offices in 20 developing countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Working closely with our partners, CIP seeks to achieve food security, improved nutrition, and gender equity for poor people in the developing world in the midst of climate change. CIP furthers its mission through rigorous research, innovation in science and technology, and capacity strengthening regarding root and tuber farming and food systems.


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“The results indicate that our efforts to breed varieties with high potential for strengthening food security in areas that are affected, or will be affected by climate change, are working,” he said.

LOL, the obligatory money line…

john harmsworth

Now we just have to send the hungry people to Mars!

Bryan A

Time for a major sample return mission and see if they truely CAN grow in MARS soil and what nutrients/fertilizer would be needed to create the necessary soil conditions there

george e. smith

So what; you can grow potatoes in an empty bucket (barrel).

You put a couple of inches of soil in the bottom of the barrel and plant you seed potatoe eye.

(here) When the sprout emerges from the soil an inch or so, you cover it up again with a few more inches of soil, then jump to “(here)”.

Once the barrel is full of soil, you let the potatoe plant grow till it is mature, and then you pour out all the excess dirt, leaving you with a barrel full of potatoes.



I think this was a great study. Yes George, the bucket method is basically the same as you would use in a garden as well ( without the digging). But the study was set up with pretty harsh parameters, it looked pretty stringent and if they can develop tubers, not only potatoes, but others like it ( beets, carrots etc)I think it is valuable
Another tip, we have saved a few potatoes every spring from the store and wait until they sprout shoots and then planted them, has worked every year and saves a few bucks.( Buying seed potatoes is $ 10)


John Harmsworth,

Apparently we’d have to send them with a dirt payload……

“There CIP was able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilized Earth soil for both nutrition and structure.”

I wonder how they simulate the months long dust storms that blanket the entire planet of mars inside that little cube.

george e. smith

My mention without detailed explanatory supporting documentation, to planting a “seed potato” eye, was a short 4-H club version of the description of the ordinary kitchen food potatoe; aka Potatous commonous.

Numerous experiments have demonstrated that this ordinary household item, will at a pinch, replace, any Monsanto GMO’ed potaote seed variety.

Asybot evidently understood the 4-H club methodology.




They are running out of ideas and angles for the money line.


So they’re getting their ideas from Hollywood now?
Will we be able to rate them on Rotten Tomatoes?

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing

If you can grow potatoes, you can make vodka. That is taxable, to raise money for avoiding CO2 emissions limiting the atmosphere of Mars to 99% CO2.

It is said, where there’s a Will there’s a lawyer. Well, where there’s a gain there’s a tax. Where there’s tax revenue there are leeches willing to say, ‘I can avoid the calamity,’ and take that money to ‘create jobs’.

Another day, another planet. At least we can burn the vodka to stay warm.

Tom O

It would have been nice to see a list of these areas that are already affected or will be affected by climate change, don’t you think? Funny how that little piece of information seems to be difficult to discover, or, at least, I have never been able to find it.

Eustace Cranch

controls the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels

Wait a minute. In the movie (and book) the potatoes were grown in a pressurized, heated habitat, NOT Mars temperature and air pressure. In fact, in the story, the plants were killed when the habitat airlock blew out.


The potatoes were killed (frozen) when the heated habitat was destroyed, not by the lower air pressure on Mars. I also wondered about using non-decomposed human feces as a fertilizer. Wouldn’t that be harmful to any plants?

Nope. Japanese honeybuckets were used for centuries to fertilize nutrient depleted rice fields. Reread Shogun.

george e. smith

No! Only to the ruminants that try to eat the potatoes.

I guess we can eat other species sh** fed potatoes but not verse vicea.




I suspect that many Vietnam vets can confirm your statement. 🙂

G. Karst

Sort of. Human manure IS too rich. China and Vietnam diluted the feces with water until it is of the correct strength. Liquid manure was then carefully ladled around the plants. GK

John F. Hultquist

Non-decomposed human feces is called “night soil” — and you can look it up.

It IS kind of a shame, how we waste our, er, waste. . . .

Bill Illis

Raw uncooked potatoes will not survive freezing and certainly will not grow afterward. I’m sure people have stories about what happens but there is more than a mess to clean up afterward.

I believe the end product is called Chuno

I understand the Mar atmosphere is near 90% CO2. I wonder if that has anything to do with the growing success? Twould be ironic?

roger murphy

Psst, try swapping “fries” for “fires”…


I wondered if anyone caught that. Fires in space, NO thanks….

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7

I’m pretty sure I do not want fires with my interplanetary travel …

Fire is good for interplanetary travel. So long as it stays in the combustion chamber, and the results only exit through the rear.

Otherwise, yes – not a great idea.

Brian Wohlgemuth

Naa…how else would you cook them?

Pamela Gray

I’ll side with those who prefer fries over fires. Mars is not equipped yet to put out fires. At least not until we can melt the ice caps. Oh! I just thought of a way to melt ice caps!


With a 95% CO2 atmosphere? Mars’ll put out fires just fine. 🙂

With an oxygen level of only 0.13, I’m not sure you could start a fire on Mars…much less keep one going.


What was missing from the movie was the international outcry over him contaminating the Martian soil with earth microbes. And, the Nuremberg style trails because he choose himself.


Ha ha!

“Friends of Mars” eco-terrorist group in the making? 🙂

Rhoda R

Not to mention is specially developed potatoes are probably GMO potatoes.

I still haven’t seen the movie but when I first heard it involved growing potatoes I wondered, why the heck would any clown choose to grow a plant that has such a small edible component ?? Aside from a tuber stuffed with carbohydrates the rest of the plant is inedible and taking into account the glycoalkaloids, toxic.. Surely you’d try grow something less wasteful, maybe even something with more beneficial bioaccumulation properties like cabbage for it’s calcium as well as the iron. I can think of half a dozen plants that would be far more useful with far more of the organic material available to be eaten.


Apparently, all that was available to plant was a few potatoes. They didn’t bring along any plant seeds.

In the movie, he didn’t have any seeds, as that was not part of the mission. He did find a box of whole raw potatoes, which were labeled to be used for a holiday dinner. A bit of clever script-writing, to allow for something that could be cultivated.

Paul Blase

Thanksgiving, and it was in the book too.

Which is funny, because “eating” potatoes are sprayed with a non-sprouting agent so they don’t start growing, and often won’t sprout even if you plant them.

Jeffrey Mitchell

Our store bought potatoes start growing if we wait too long to eat them. Had it happen several times as we sometimes don’t get around to using them soon enough. So if they spray them with an anti sprouting compound, it has a limit on how long it prevents sprouting. We’ve been there, done that. Personal experience.

True, we have it happen too. Which causes another question to form in my head….if it’s too difficult/expensive to grow plants on the ship on it’s way to Mars, and they plan to take “seed potatoes” with them, how will they keep them from sprouting/going bad/rotting on the trip to Mars….which takes six months…plus the time it would take to augment the soil and create the perfect growing environment before planting???

Not to mention several here have mentioned that everything on a space ship would have to be irradiated so as not to have any germs or bacteria that could make the people on it sick.

I grew up in Idaho, and I think this whole thing is hilariously messed up. But interesting. All those people who claim that humans have messed up Earth’s natural environment and it’s habitats should be protesting the idea of our species taking Earth plants and other things and introducing them to Mar’s natural environment. Talk about hypocrisy.

I have always heard that potatoes are one of the few foods which can sustain a person, or Martian.


Only when cooked with oil, as in so-called French fries.


Economic historians have argued that without the 16th century Spanish conquest of Peru, the 18th and 19th century industrial revolution wouldn’t have been possible, since the proletariat were sustained by French fries.

There was an experiment in Sweden ober an entire winter. The total foodstuff was potatoes and butter. Provided the potato skins were also eaten (vitamin and mineral rich) no nutritional deficit over 6 months.

Paul Blase

Just ask the Irish!


March 8, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Yup. Skins are essential.

Butter might be superior to vegetable oil.

george e. smith

You just don’t know nuffin about growing potatoes.


Keith J

Because potatoes have all essential amino acids and if your base carbohydrate intake is met with only potato, you will only need essential fatty acids in your diet.

It is a quite unique plant being hardy and genetically well studied. The one fault responsible for the Irish potato famine was due to a nightshade virus common to the island nation. Which has since been bred out of most varieties.


Yeah, that makes european style fries with mayonnaise more healthy than american fries with ketchup. 🙂

Tom in Florida

I didn’t see any mention of what to do about the harmful radiation that gets through because of no Van Allen like belts shielding the Planet.

Exactly Tom. I like how you think.


They have that sorted 🙂

Turning the red planet green: NASA proposes radical plan to surround Mars with a magnetic field to restore an ‘Earth-like’ atmosphere

Pat Frank

Great idea, but the story skips the central point: what do you use to create the field? A giant bar magnet at L1? What?


Solar wind protons are damaging, but it is the relativistic speed GCR protons (from outside the solar system) and and also a few relativistic speed charged heavier nucleons that are the real killers. Our thick dense atmosphere is what really shields us surface dwellers in Earth’s biosphere from GCR neutron cascade as the relatvistics protons mostly first strike N2, O2, and Ar and create a cascade of radiation particles.


The plan is if they protect the atmosphere from the solar wind it would heat up enough to vaporise the frozen CO2 at the poles. This would warm even more and allow the frozen water underground to enter the atmosphere. An anti-snowball effect. That might protect the spuds from GCRs.
If you need a bit more atmosphere you could stick a maglev gun to a solar sail an clean up the watery asteroids by firing ice cubes at Mars. If that isn’t enough go on to mine Europa and Enceladus for more ice cubes.


All that just to grow spuds? Be far less costly to send the greentards to Mars and see if they can not only grow spuds, but cultivate themselves into something far more useful.

Besides, why bother colonising other planets at all? As far as I can tell, with the Sun getting some 10% hotter every Bn years, we’ve got maybe half that time left here. By that time we should be able to upload our consciousness onto memory chips and travel the galaxy without having to eat spuds.


You would need tomatoes too. You can’t eat chips without ketchup.
But as they are closely related you might be able to grow a non poisonous potomato.
With some tomato flavoured vodka what more could you need? Oh yes sunsets, there must be a decent sunset or no point.


The potatoes will be fried – naturally!

dan no longer in CA

The hard part is getting potatoes to grow in an atmospheric pressure about 0.6% that of Terra. Potatoes will dry out rather rapidly.

john harmsworth

Movie was stupid. Big chunks of dirt blowing around in an atmosphere of approx. 1% of Earth. Growth area pressurized to breathable level and sealed with a poly wrap across an 8′ opening that would have had a couple tons of force on it. Where can I get some of that poly? Other scenes too dumb to mention. Spoils a decent plot idea with kindergarten goofs. Good ole Hollywood!


We do know that the Martian atmosphere can produce dust devils and quite large dust storms. This is mostly due to the presence of many very fine dust particles on the surface. However, the quite thin atmosphere would not produce much force, even at relatively high wind speeds.

Interesting that near the end all that was needed for the nose of the space capsule was a tarp, because the atmosphere was so thin that it would not exert much force. That contradicts the opening Mars storm where the wind was carrying large objects off.




Yes, wind powerful enough to blow people and things around disastrously is impossible in such a thin atmosphere. But, hey, it’s the movies.

To me growing potatoes on Mars was kind of an inside joke referencing the conditions of the plant’s native Peruvian Altiplano. But nowhere on earth enjoys a 96% CO2 atmosphere. Problem for potatoes and other plants on Mars would be the dry soil. Photosynthesis in land plants requires water from the ground and CO2 from the air. On Mars the latter is no problem. For most of the Red Planet, however, the former is.


That was about the onky sensible part of the plot, how he managed to generate water from the fuel.

Elisa Berg

Also, presumably, the DIRT (not soil) is sterile, depriving the potatoes of their microbial symbionts.

george e. smith

Well not quite stupid enough to get you to not go and see it ??


Paul Blase

The author admitted that he stretched that point a bit in order to create the scenario. Everything else is plausible.

What about the effects of extreme cosmic rays and radiation from the lack of a strong magnetosphere like we have on Earth. This is always lost on people who think we can do stuff like this on Mars. They also think we can terraform the same planet with an created atmosphere. It would just be “blown” into space without a strong magnetosphere.


Potatoes evolved in harsh condition in the Andes mountains. Wild varieties still found there will contain genetic traits that can be used to improve even on the plants tested in this experiment.

Yes. And thanks that this research is ongoing.


“mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Sensors constantly monitor these conditions and live streaming cameras record the soil in anticipation of the potato sprouting.

In the movie-book, the potatoes grow in 1 bar hab with the main character bringing in Mars soil through the airlocks and mixing it with his bagged human feces for fertilizer. They were not “grown” in Mars pressure or Mars atmosphere, an atmosphere of mostly CO2.

And because of the pressure differential, Mars CO2 doesn’t leak in.
This presents a conumdrum.
The other problem from the book is the number of moles of carbon needed to grow-make the supposed number of plants and the potatoes is much greater than the available pCO2 inside the hab air.

CO2 is life.

Bryan A

Didn’t you see the part where he created a CO2 pressurization system to take in atmospheric CO2 from outside the habitat? (I missed that part too)

The Martian atmospheric pressure is about 1/160 ATM, If this was brought up to 1 ATM by adding N2/O2 or other gases, the CO2 concentration would be about 1/160, which is over 6000 ppm and is plenty of carbon. You would also stop scrubbing CO2 and pump atmospheric CO2 into the habitat or an attached greenhouse and let the plants convert it into biomass and O2.

Mars demonstrates that CO2 is only a weak GHG since the equivalent of 6000 ppm is about 4.5 doublings from pre-industrial levels and based on the IPCC’s presumed sensitivity should effect a nominal temperature increase of 13.5C +/- 7.5C. This is clearly not evident in the average Martian temperature which is only about 4C greater than its radiant temperature which is less than the lower bound based on the IPCC sensitivity to doubling CO2 and this doesn’t even include the effect from the first 240 ppm equivalent. Bear in mind that that O2 and N2 are completely transparent to the wavelengths involved with the GHG effect and relative to this have absolutely no effect. Only the absolute amount of CO2 matters and not its equivalent ppm, which on Mars is almost a million ppm. Also, the colder Martin temperatures emit a larger fraction of surface emissions in the absorption bands of CO2.

Bloke down the pub

The air pressure in the mountains of South America where the potato originates is pretty low, so that may help with adjusting to life on Mars, where even in a human habitat, the pressure is likely to be below one atmosphere.

Thomas Homer

Is Mars’ polluted or not? The current EPA stance is that CO2 is a pollutant and Mars’ atmosphere is 95% CO2.

Of course CO2 is not a pollutant at all, it is the base of the food chain for all carbon based life forms. Including potatoes.

It’s the 200F degree swing in daily temperatures on Mars that I’m curious about, as to which plants can cope. The colder temperature of Mars is what prompted me to ponder the question: “How much Carbon Dioxide would we need to add to the Mars’ atmosphere to bring those temps closer to Earth’s climate?” That’s when I assumed there was some validity to the concept of CO2 being a greenhouse gas. I expected to find formulas that describe the greenhouse gas property of CO2. Then I learned that the Mars’ atmosphere is already 95% CO2, and there is no way to measure or quantify in any way this ‘greenhouse gas’ property. Of course, physical properties are things that can be measured, and since it can’t be measured, there is no actual ‘greenhouse gas’ property.


How much CO2 would we have to add to the martian atmosphere to bring it up to earth like temperatures?
Between 1 and 2 bar should do it.

Bob Burban

“Between 1 and 2 bar should do it.+ – Are we talking Mars Bars?

Thomas Homer

I know my reply is tardy, but would you show your work?

What formula are you using to arrive at: “between 1 and 2 bars should do it”?


how did they simulate solar/space radiation?


“The results indicate that our efforts to breed varieties with high potential for strengthening food security in areas that are affected, or will be affected by climate changeweather, are working,” he said.

There, fixed for ya.

Not particularly surprised by the sprouting though, potatos and other tuberous roots will sprout even in mid-air, so this isn’t very surprising. What’ll be interesting is if the can actually grow there.


*if they

D. J. Hawkins

Garlic too. My wife made something for which she purchased an entire bulb and used one or two cloves. The remainder has been in the fridge since then. It has nicely sprouted, in the cold and dark, and I’m thinking of breaking up the bulb and planting the cloves for an indoor crop.


Now on to the next movie theme and grant.

Mickey Reno

I miss the old days, when Real [tm] reality and signaling one’s Real [tm] green credentials meant depicting Real [tm] ecology in Real [tm] disaster movies like “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Mickey Reno

…. and Sharknado.

Curious George

I’ve never tried to grow potatoes in my refrigerator. How unscientific!


You have to leave the refrigerator light on at least 12 hours a day.

Walter Sobchak

Isn’t it on all the time?

Pat Frank

Right, Walter. Isn’t it on every single time we look inside? 🙂

george e. smith

You mean that light really goes out when the door is closed.

I never would have thought of doing that !



Oh it does go off. You can get “The Grunting Refrigerator Piggy Diet Aid” that oinks when the light goes oncomment image

This entire sub-thread from Curious George down, is one of my favorite reasons for reading WUWT!! Seriously. You guys always make me smile. 🙂

Potatoes indeed are a strong species, as they can survive quite different soils, climates, air pressures,…

While humans have cultivated only a few of them on large scale, the cultivated potatoes lost the genes with the ability to resist potato blight which led to the Irish potato famine disaster of the 1840-1850’s.

Now the last field trials are ending where two of the blight resistence gens were re-introduced (both by crossing and GMO techniques) out of some wild Peruvian potatoes.
As usual, anti GMO activists tried to destroy the test fields (but didn’t completely succeed, despite the huge damage done).

Peru still has some 400 wild potato varieties…

george e. smith

Our local Saturday farmers market has some wild potatoes too. All organic; grown without any carbon in them.



Oh Cool!! Are carbon free potatoes like carbon free sugar? :))

I hope those patatoes were tested for toxicity, as even most cultivated potatoes have enough solanin in them to expose potato eaters to about 1/10 of the toxic level. If that wasn’t “natural” they surely would have been banned from the market…

There is some offset between natural resistence against pests and eatability: as humans cultivated lots of fruits and vegetatbles, they choosed the sweetest ones, which by definition have less alkaloids that gave their resistence…

John Harmsworth

Boy!Try to catch a wild Peruvian potato!


controls the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

At the lowest levels of the martian surface, atmospheric pressure is maybe 8 torr. (Earth std is 760 torr for comparison) Water will boil and ice will sublimate at any temperature you will encounter in equatorial regions. That is why Mars is so dry in the first place. Anything you set out in those conditions gets desiccated and freeze dried.

Paul Blase

Thus the disaster in “The Martian” when the habitat blew. They’re talking about soil conditions, not atmospheric pressure.


mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels

I do not know how to misread this so badly as to think they are not talking about Mars air pressure.


I would suggest the movie Avatar 2: The CO2 Menace starring slim avatar figures of Al Gore and M. Mann.


How much would it cost to provide a 10 lb bag of Mars grown potatos to your local market? The land there is virtually free. All one has to do is go there and stake a claim. There are no immigration restrictions but there in no regularily scheduled transportation to and from Mars either,so transportation is a problem.

george e. smith

You just upload them to the cloud !!



We live on a very nice warm planet. Why would we want to go to a dead world?


To get away from earthly politics?


For the same reason so many left Europe to come to the new world.

george e. smith

They grow lovely potatoes there !



because its there …


No one is going to Mars.


Follows on from a previous WUWT article:

NASA has been doing this for a while (started in the 80s) and probably was one of the inspirations for this plot line in the movie.

Grand Lunar

When I saw article,, I was surprised no one thought of this, from the Spudis Lunar Resources blog:

“Like the Moon, the surface of Mars is covered with a fine dust, but unlike lunar soil, martian dust is chemically reactive – a toxic mix of perchlorates and peroxides that, combined with the high flux of solar UV and galactic cosmic rays to which the surface is exposed, makes for an almost completely sterilizing environment. The Viking landers flown 50 years ago could not find any organic matter (i.e., compounds made of carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen) in martian soil in any concentration at the parts-per-billion sensitivity level. The scenes in the recent film The Martian (held up by NASA as a model of scientific veracity and prediction) in which the astronaut fertilizes the martian soil and grows potatoes, is complete fantasy – we simply do not know how to alter the soil chemistry of Mars, fertilize it with organic matter, and then grow radiation-tolerant plants quickly enough to support a human community, let alone a single astronaut.”

Basically, this experiment overlooked a very important aspect of the Martian soil and is complete garbage.

Seems climate science and Martian colonization have something in common.


It was a book, an enjoyable one. Then it was a movie, an enjoyable one. If you’re trying to glean anything more than entertainment form the book or movie then… I don’t know what. Suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to be entertained. The real world will continue once the entertainment is over.

Grand Lunar

I was referring to the experiment that was mentioned in this article, NOT the book or the movie.

Potato factoid stumbled on while writing the long complicated food chapter of Gaia’s Limits published in 2012. In order, what are the top three potato producing/consuming countries? I will wait a bit and post the answer below.


1. China
2. India
3. Russia

As of 2013…

george e. smith

Well there aren’t enough potatoe consumers on Zealandia to amount to a hill of potatoes !

China and India are just chock full of potatoe consumers.


SMC, Correct. Did you research, or read my ebook? Bravo in either case. Well done.



I haven’t read your book. Thanks for that pat on the head. Can I have a cookie, too?


You might get some French fries or a lovely Bombay aloo 🙂

Ristvan, Russia I thought would have been a shoo\e in for # 1 (vodka) but then I realized both China and India have triple or so the population. India was influenced by the Brits and China had a large EU influence as well a century ago. I would have failed your test

George e. Does Zealandia perhaps have a hill of beans? China and India’s must be potato consumers thanks to McDonald’s.

SMC, nope. But very well done as basic skepticism. BTW, your reponse on the previous thread concerning Treaties or not was also excellent. My regards to both. You are welcome here. And I don’t care whether you read my books. You clearly think enough not to need to. Highest regards.

Randy in Ridgecrest

Remember the Bandini Mountain ads? Imagine a ship load of that for company!


What about gravity? Will the reduced gravity on Mars not have an effect?

(And, although I loved the book, I almost didn’t go see the movie because they chose probably the most science-ignorant actor – Damon – to play Whatney. Who can forget that stirring exclamation, “I’m gonna have to science the sh*t out of this,” spoken like a true jock-for-brains before taking his high school chemistry final for the 3rd time (and a sentence that was not in the book).


I agree gravity is not something that they should overlook before concluding anything. But it is probably quite difficult to replicate here.


They have grown plants on both Skylab and ISS. If plants can handle zero G, it can’t imagine why the lower gravity of Mars would be a problem.

A recent new favorite in my universe is the white sweet potatoe. A one-pounder microwaves beautifully, and in a few minutes is ready to receive 2 tbsp of butter and some seasoning. After my 3 hour mountain-biking loop, with 3500 feet of climbing … yumyumyumyumyum.

I find the whites have a much better texture than the orange variety, and I like the flavor better.

Incidentally, everyone calls orange sweet potatoes “yams”, but that is incorrect. Real yams have a covering that almost looks like bark, are much less sweet, and are from the lily family, rather than from the morning-glory family like the sweet potato. So next time beloved family members or friends pipe up at Thanksgiving, you can bitch-slap them with that critical factoid, in perfect keeping with spirit of the holiday 😉

[Butter now you must address the issues of getting that pat of butter produced locally on Mars. .mod]


You didn’t really mean to mess with my memories of sweet potatoes did you ?
Thought not.


Best potato I ever had was at a lounge at London Heathrow. Much more flavourful than the typical Canadian variety.


Funny that, I’m personally curious of seeing how a yellow sweet potato tastes, I only know white ones (there’s a few different white varieties, too). Never seen a yellow one around here.


no sure if available in your area but we used to grow Kennebec breed potato.
good taste, easy cooking for variety of outputs (fries, etc)


Peel tried to prevent the potatoe famine. The corn was new tech in Ireland. Morning glory seeds are psychoactive. Hemp is good food to grow in space. CO2 promotes growth.

The push for climate change prevention is the same fear that manifested as our worst tribal superstitions. Human sacrifice to appease the…volcano. Yup.

We are all tired of it now. Al Gore needs to watch Joe and The Volcano with Tom Hanks.

Mars was where carbon taxes were invented in the first place. By Liberal Martians who sold pyramids to the Egyptians. They are among us.

Carbon taxes pay for the star gate to the Sirius region.

Talk about volcano’s This one has been going for almost 3 months and barely mentioned anywhere:


Yes. That was a secret randomly chosen location where they tossed Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin out of politics in a black knight-rider plastic helicopter? All hell broke loose. Solid burn…


Peel tried to prevent the potatoe famine.

I always wondered where potato peelers came from!

(historical note: British policemen were originally called peelers after Peel who introduced them)

Because of the distance the diameter of the sun would be much smaller and the sunlight intensity much lower compared to Earth, something like a perpetually cloudy, overcast day. Also very cold. The movie had it wrong. Would need a complete greenhouse, extra light and all.

I took great offense at the line in the book that raw potatoes are disgusting. I eat raw potatoes with great delight, though I don’t do it very often — maybe steal one or two out of the pot after the wife has cut them up for boiling. Of course, I like raw mushrooms too, so maybe I’m strange?


ummm… maybe just a little, strange that is. :))
Now, if you want to talk about stealing a taste of chocolate chip cookie dough, that’s a whole different story… 😛

Rhoda R

Raw potatoes are good sliced thin and soaked in vinegar. Used to be one of my favorite snacks as a kid.

Paul Westhaver

The ethics of putting alien life on Mars.

I think it may be immoral to put potatoes, or bacteria for that matter on Mars. Maybe there is life there already. I doubt it, but maybe.

Imagine terraforming Mars and killing all of the native life inadvertently.

Mars!….leave it alone. 97% of earth’s oceans are unexplored.

Paul Westhaver

What now?


One flaw in the theory:

Food going into space is irradiated. So the potatoes would be sterile. It is all sterile. It is done to keep astronauts from getting sick.

Loved the book, and the movie. But that is a flaw nobody seems to mention.

Nothing a tin foil hat couldn’t fix. 🙂

Roger Knights

Anthony: typo: change to “fries” in:

the “do you want fires with that interplanetary travel” department . . .

It was BAKED potatoes.

Over 3.8 billion years at least a hundred million tons of Earth material that has escaped our atmosphere has landed on Mars. Some will have contained remnants of life, perhaps viable life.

Mark - Helsinki

Oh great news all we have to do to colonize Mars is send the Irish first to terraform the planet with potato harvesting.

Non Nomen

Belgian astronauts will love these Irish French fries.

Peta from Cumbria, now Newark

and weather shocks are

When you’re clinically depressed, (from eating carbs) shocks come very easily.

CubeSat delivers nutrient rich water

And where did that come from, not Mars I don’t think

until a rescue mission can be lau…

But isn’t future technology going to be so great. we all agree on that, so why is a there a Rescue Requirement?
What did these bozos do to require rescuing?

Anyway, eating too many tatties will turn you into one, we all know what our mothers told us:-

You are what you eat.

If you don’t actually physically become a potato, you become a bloated & brain-dead blob – isn’t 7 billion enough of them already

….air lock blew out..

Almost makes you believe in a God.
Somebody somewhere has an incredible, if not rather wicked, sense of humour


If my memory is correct about the film an evil Dr Mann was included in the plot.
Just like real life really.

feed berple

You are thinking of climate change the movie.

jon sutton

All a waste of time……. even if potatoes could be grown on Mars, the atmospheric pressure is too low to get a pan of water hot enough to cook them 😉


Water will boil just fine on mars. 🙂


Actually, Sutton may be correct.

The boiling point (vapour pressure) of water in a 6 mb atmosphere is 0ºc, which means water will always be frozen on Mars. To get a liquid, and some boiling, you need to raise the atmosphere to 9 mb. This gives a boiling point of just 5ºc, which is not quite enough to boil your spuds…. 😉


John Renodin

Well, you can boil them, but not cook

John Renodin

Here’s a question.. How effective is a microwave at those pressures.. does the water in the potato remain long enough to cook it?


Make your microwave air tight.


These Mars-like conditions they’re on about, did they include cosmic radiation let in by Mar’s no-magnetosphere, decidedly Mars-like condition? No? That lethal-to-humans thing you get from the cosmic radiation let in by Mar’s no-magnetosphere Mars-like condition, was that accommodated in these Mars-like conditions? No? It could be me but I reckon these microwaved taters are for microwaved roughly humanoid settlers from NASA.

The we-must-colonize-Mars robots are the only fertile thing around here: They’re the market the expanding socialism-for-scientists “researchers” pander to.


Interesting. What they don’t say, is that they were growing these spuds in an atmosphere that has much more CO2 than we have on Earth. This is the reason why it can work in such a thin atmosphere, because plants breathe and transpire CO2, not the masses of ‘useless’ N2 that we have on Earth.

Earth’s atmosphere is 1000 mb, of which 400 ppm is CO2.
Mars’ atmosphere is 6 mb, of which 950,000 ppm is CO2.


Earth’s CO2 partial pressure is 0.4 mb.
Mars’ CO2 partial pressure is 5.7 mb.

(Please check my math, as I have been known to get the decimal point wrong….)

So the partial pressure concentration of CO2 on Mars is much greater than on Earth. And it is obviously partial pressure that counts as far as plants are concerned, not total pressure, and so these spuds can grow quite well on Mars. All you need is a greenhouse to keep the temperature up a bit, and use the normal Martian atmosphere.

Which rather suggests that widespread agriculture would be possible from day-one on Mars – with vast equatorial greenhouses feeding a large population, and converting Martian CO2 to animal-friendly O2. And C4 plants like maize and sugar cane would do equally well in this environment, as these C3 potatoes.

This also suggests that a high concentration of CO2 is good for life, both on Earth and on Mars. But we all knew that anyway, even if the Greeney brigade continue to deny it.


Thomas Homer

Excellent! Mars has a comparable amount of CO2 as Earth, and this is why I’ve attempted to press for anyone to show how much heat is trapped on Mars. Did CO2 lose its ‘greenhouse gas’ property? Here’s a chance to showcase your science with an almost monolithic layer of the ‘heat trapping’, ‘greenhouse gas’ Carbon Dioxide. Yet Mars sheds 200F degrees of heat each night.

BTW, the fact that Mars has an atmosphere of 95% CO2 is a clear indication that no ‘life as we know it’ exists there. ‘Life as we know it’ equates to all carbon based life forms, and we know that carbon based life forms consume CO2


My only remaining question, is can these spuds exist on gaseous water? At the Martian 6 mb atmospheric pressure the vapour pressure temperature at 6 mb is 0ºc. So if the Martian greenhouse is kept at, say, 15ºc, then all the water would be gaseous – even in the soil.

Many orchids can exist on water vapour and CO2 gas, but can these potatoes do it too?



So…they didn’t use martian soil. They brought in water and nutrients. And they kept it at a temperature completely different from the mars surface.

It sounds like they just grew potatoes in a greenhouse


The point is, that you don’t need much of a pressure vessel to grow plants on Mars. Now that is a huge saving in the cost of agriculture and maintaining a colony on Mars.

(Although I think they would need to raise the atmospheric pressure to 9mb to keep the water liquid. Perhaps someone can confirm that figure.)


feed berple

The greenhouse had Mars in big letters written on the side.


“do you want fires with that”
“do you want fries with that”



>> Radiation.

Although it is not mentioned, since this was a cubesat I presume the experiment was in orbit, and therfore subject to greater radiation. It is a very poor press release, which does not make clear if the cubesat was earthbound or in orbit.



Actually you can’t grow potatoes under Martian conditions. They can probably survive the thin (but CO2-rich) atmosphere, the soil, and conceivably even the UV radiation (they do well at high altitudes on Earth), but they would inevitably be killed by the low night temperatures. Potatoes are an extremely adaptable and hardy plant, but it is very sensitive to frost.

But, to claim that potatoes cannot grow under the “low night-time” temperatures of Mars, you MUST measure the actual temperatures of the potato itself. Not of the “air” 2 meters (or 2 inches even) above ground where the potato is not present. (Leaves excepted – unless those leaves are ALSO confirmed harmed by the low temperatures as well.)

Potatoes grow underground at 4-5 inches below soil level. In fact, in the potato-growing regions of the US near Idaho Falls ID, the 4-inch soil temperature IS in EVERY daily weather forecast and overnight weather report. Always, that temperature is ten-thirty degrees higher than the 2-meter “official” air temperature. Yes, there is a growing season in Idaho – there is a six-month winter up there in Idaho as well of frequent -15 and -25 degrees F overnight air temperatures as well.

To answer a question about overnight 5-inch soil temperatures below Mars soil near the Martian equator (surely no one would expect anything to grow near their polar regions (unless harvesting the frozen CO2-ice is the intent of the polar settlement) the short Martian nights may be compatible with temperate or equatorial Martian overnight soil temperatures – at 5 inch below the soil. I will make no claim for the actual overnight soil temperatures at different days-of-a-Martian year and different Martian latitudes and elevations and solar exposures (slope of the land), but I will reject any claim that does not address trying to estimate the soil temperatures.


You obviously don’t know anything whatsoever about potatoes. Even a few hours below freezing completely destroys the leaves. And they need those leaves you know. They produce the carbohydrates that go into the potatoes. The potatoes don’t grow by some kind of magic underground.

And yes indeed, there is a growing season in Idaho. July temperature in Boise is approximately the same as in Columbus, Ohio (and warmer than in Buffalo, N Y.).

Six ‘Climate Change’ and one ‘weather shock’
“also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from climate change and weather shocks are already experiencing”.
I wonder if they reduced the ‘Climate Change’ score because of the word ‘weather’?
CC Score = 1.42% (12/848)


Just a small killer to the theory from the book/movie potato bit:

Food sent into space, especially vacuum packed food like this, would be irradiated. All food they send is that way.

So the potatoes would be sterile. They wouldn’t be able to be grown.

The Original Mike M

So 100 million years from now, long after all life disappeared on earth because CO2 finally went below ~140 for too long, the potato people of Mars finally send their first astronauts to try to live on “that curious wet planet”. In the course of exploration they come across one of these –comment image – confirming thousands of years of what had only recently been dismissed as religious dogma.

Pete J

The real question is which strain grows best there, indica or sativa?

Craig Loehle

The atmospheric pressure on Mars is 0.6% of that on Earth. That means there is no way there is enough atmosphere for plants. Sorry. Also, sunlight is very attenuated there–enough for plants? I doubt this experiment did these 2 things properly.