Does the surface of Mars have something equivalent to soil? If so, even after being fertilized, can we really grow potato in it? What would have to be done to it in order to make it "potato-friendly"?
Growing potatoes and other food on Mars is not just a sci-fi curiosity. Now, a NASA-backed "Potatoes on Mars" experiment is showing that Watney's fictional feat might actually be possible.
To that end, scientists at NASA and the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Lima, Peru, built a tuber-growing experiment that recreates the extreme conditions on the surface of Mars.
Everything happens inside a rocket-launchable box called a CubeSat. The CubeSat is rigged with pumps, water hoses, LED lights, and instruments to emulate Mars-like temperatures, night-and-day light cycles, gases, and air pressure.
In February 2017, researchers dumped practically lifeless soil from Peru's Pampas de la Joya desert inside, planted a tuber in it, sealed up the box, and began filming to see what happened.
"Preliminary results are positive," according to a CIP press release - which is to say a potato plant grew in inhospitable desert soil under Mars-like conditions.