NASA to simulate growing potatoes on Mars in Peru

By Agence France-Presse in Lima ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-03-05 14:08:26

Vegetable of the future

The soil in La Joya Pampas-a sector of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru that's considered one of the driest places on earth-is very similar to that found on the Red Planet.

The scientists plan to transport 100 kilos of it to a CIP laboratory in Lima that will simulate the complex Martian atmosphere-which contains mostly carbon dioxide-and expose it to extreme ultraviolet radiation.

"We'll have more concrete results in one or two years, Valdivia says, adding that it will take more than five years to launch an unmanned mission to Mars.

The potential future space crop is also one of the oldest.

Records of potato cultivation date back to 2500 BC, when the indigenous Aymara Indians farmed it in modern-day Peru and Bolivia.

If the varieties selected for next month's experiment don't adapt to the desert soil, the researchers will introduce nutrients and subject them to radiation.

"If that doesn't work," Valdivia says, "we'll administer a new method the CIP is using called aeroponics."

The technique, used for cultivating plants without soil, would expose roots inside a sphere or cube that is sprayed with nutrients and contains a system for removing toxins.

In future years, NASA plans to build a Mars research center in the Peruvian desert.

It would create a perfect replica of the Martian landscape and atmosphere for future research into space farming that could serve manned missions to Mars and other planets in the solar system.

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