ZME Science In the movie, Watney is a botanist part of a manned NASA expedition to Mars. by Tibi Puiu
'A storm surprises the crew and is forced to make an emergency takeoff from Mars. In the midst of confusion, Watney – who was incapacitated by the storm – is thought dead and left behind. When he wakes up, Watney is in for surprise. He’s the only Martian and possibly the only living thing on an entire planet. Out of supplies and bored, Watney does whatever any botanist in his situation would: grow potatoes and start a video blog.
'Back in real life, NASA has partnered with the CIP with the intended goal of ultimately growing potatoes on Mars under a controlled dome. Why? Because potatoes are freaking resilient and nutritious. These are excellent source of vitamin C, iron, and zinc, they contain critical micronutrients. “How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago?” said Joel Ranck, CIP Head of Communications. “We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth.”
'For now, the team plans on growing potatoes in a simulated Mars environment here on Earth. They’ll use soil from Pampas de La Joya Desert in Peru (very similar to that found on Mars) and replicate atmospheric conditions on Mars, which is comprised of 95% carbon dioxide. According to the researchers the jump in CO2 should provide yields two to four times that of a regular grain crop under normal Earth conditions. If this experiment proves successful, then they might get the green light to perform the first ever extraterrestrial farming, on the red planet.
'“The idea of growing food for human colonies in space could be a reality very soon.” said Chris McKay, planetary scientist of the NASA Ames research centre.'