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Scientists just proved an Earth vegetable can grow on Mars

Published Mar 10th, 2017 6:36PM EST
potatoes on mars
Image: NASA

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NASA scientists researching Mars with their fancy robots always snag the sexy headlines, but here on Earth some diligent researchers have been conducting experiments that are just as important (if not more so) to humanity’s eventual visit to the red planet. It’s not about ancient rocks, new robotic explorers or Martian lakebeds. It’s about potatoes.

The International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, has been conducting an ongoing experiment for over a year in the quest to determine whether or not the hearty Earth veggie could grow in Martian soil. Using a specially designed enclosure that closely mimics the harsh climate of Mars, including the air pressure, oxygen levels, and even simulated say and night cycles.

Surprisingly — or perhaps not, depending on how much you know about the stubborn will of potatoes — the team was able to successfully get the veggies to sprout, and they’ve been happily growing ever since. The center even set up a live webcam for interested parties to check in on their development, though since it’s basically the same thing as watching grass grow, it’s not exactly the most riveting streaming content on the web.

The goal of the study wasn’t just to prove that potatoes could grow on Mars. The team hopes to use its research to help grow food in areas that have been harshly impacted by climate change, and where the soil is simply not the greatest. But if the only thing you learned from this entire story is that a place called the International Potato Center exists, it’s all been worth it.