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Can you grow potatoes on Mars?

Stashed in: Awesome, Mars!, Space!, Agriculture, Mars, Mars Humans, The Martian

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Today I learned Mars is like Iceland.

I came across the work of Emily Bathgate, a PhD student at UTS. She was building a library of how minerals respond to light spectra, specifically Raman and FTIR. She is doing this because the next Mars rovers (Mars2020 and ExoMars) won’t carry diffraction machines, but will carry Raman and FTIR instruments.

I realised that she might like some ‘Mars-like’ samples to try her library out on, and offered her the use of the Icelandic ash – and the diffraction patterns to go with them. You can read more about this in the nice paper Emily published about it all.

But, as any soil scientist will tell you, the minerals are only the start. These need to be processed and have the ability to hold in a community of bacteria.

I won’t give away the spoiler of how Mark Watney achieves that. But the premise is sound, Mars is like Iceland and they can grow potatoes on Iceland (though, with a bit of help from the abundant geothermal heat they have there).

My old boss worked on growing potatoes in space (or Mars). Super productive calorie source, so more good science in choosing it as the crop.

Will sweet potatoes work too or do they have different characteristics?

The first question I would have would be, which of the 4,000 varieties? 

There are 4000 varieties of potato?!

(does Internet research)

Oh. Yes there are:

My guess is no on sweet potatoes. They are lowland semi-tropical. White potatoes will grow in cool climates and were originally high altitude. They might have more tolerance of tough conditions.

I wonder if growing potatoes in Martian soil would be like hydrponics. Might there be enough soluble minerals to support robust growth without microbial action? Might the live potato seed carry enough inoculum to create favorable conditions?

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