When you travel in space and land on a brand new planet, just what kind of food is there to eat? It might prove to be a bridge too far to cross for many of us, if we were to survive on freeze dried food alone. There is no technology like the one found in Passengers or the Star Trek series, materializing whatever you would like at the touch of a button. No sir, there is still a need for good, old fashioned cultivation in order to make things happen, and that would be a real challenge indeed. After all, who would like to turn away from comfort food like french fries when you are on a planet many millions of miles away from home?
One particular project that has made the attempt to grow potatoes in Mars-like conditions has been touted to achieve some rather positive preliminary results. The International Potato Center (CIP) that is based in Lima, Peru, has but one sole purpose -- to collect and change the number of potato varieties that can be found worldwide. I would never have thought that such a center would actually exist, but it does. The CIP kicked off as part of a global effort to get rid of worldwide hunger by introducing special strains of the potato, allowing it to be grown even in areas with arid soils and harsh environments.
As the researchers over at the CIP continue to look into technologies right now on earth, they also decided to play with the possibility of extending its reach to go beyond that of the current planet -- with Mars as a possibility. This has led the CIP to include experiments which will test out the hardy types of potato in soil conditions that are very close to the ones which we would experience if humanity were to actually colonize Mars.
Making use of a customized CubeSat, CIP scientists worked on a hermetic environment which will result in a semblance of conditions that plants, or in this case, potatoes, would find when it sprouts on Martian soil. In other words, the environment of Mars has been recreated in a box, using temperatures, air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels within which are similar to that which we will find on the Red Planet.
Why potatoes? Well, potatoes are hardy in nature, allowing them to be planted just about anywhere, and are also genetically flexible enough to adapt to harsh conditions. Why not Mars then? Baked potato jackets, and other kinds of recipes that require potatoes would definitely be in great demand then should it be possible to colonize Mars one day down the road.
However, I am quite sure that much more research needs to be done before we can conclusively say that whatever plants that are grown on Martian soil is safe for consumption in the long run. While the soil conditions might be similar to that of Mars, things on the ground would definitely be different -- and this is the challenge to find out when humanity starts to establish a foothold on Mars.