What for many is pure science fiction is about to become reality. It has been confirmed by the International Potato Center (CIP) that since the end of 2015 has conducted strict testing to finally approve that yes, the potatoes can grow on Mars (according to the first preliminary results). Why potatoes and not another vegetable? Because they are good candidates for survival, having the ability to grow both above sea level and at almost 5.000 meters of altitude, they are also an excellent source of carbohydrates, vitamin C and B, iron, potassium and zinc.
The experiment is called 'Potatoes on Mars' and early tuber buds have blossomed thanks to the CIP, based in Lima (Peru), in collaboration with the NASA Ames Center, and in particular by researchers Mark Watney and Julio Valdivia-Silvia who inserted a potato into a CubeSat, a mini cube and hermetic satellite built by University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) engineers, able to replicate the environment of Mars. Inside there are only a receptacle containing the tuber and the ground of the desert of La Joya de Pampas in southern Peru, particularly dry and more akin to the Martian one. Then CubeSat is the provider of water rich in nutrients, controller of the temperature, imitating the Martian air pressure and monitoring the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Despite the possible scenarios that the experiment has opened, there are still obstacles to be overcome. The ground used is not exactly the one of the red planet: although arid and inhospitable, probably it still had microbes that might have helped the growth of the tuber. In addition, the researchers used a potato instead of seeds. A using far-fetched if applied for real due to the simple fact that potatoes cannot face a journey of months - or even years: they will face excessive radiation or heating under pressure.
If these difficulties will be overcome, nothing prohibits the cultivation of food on the Martian or even lunar soil (more inhospitable). Meanwhile, the experiments in the CubeSat continue with other potato types to find out the minimum requirements of a plant needs in order to survive. The fruits of this research not only confirm what the best science fiction films have left us imagine for years, but it would be a real help to the astronauts of the future, as well as an opportunity to open new avenues for agriculture on Earth. If is it possible to bloom potatoes in an alien land, why not in the most arid areas of our Planet?