After successfully growing potatoes on Mars in The Martian, Matt Damon declares “I am the greatest botanist on this planet.” Now, the University of Arizona may want to nominates some folks for that same title Earthside. Farmers at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center have managed to grow crops under similarly arid, if not alien, conditions.
In their plastic-covered greenhouse, the NASA-funded scientists grew “top-quality” sweet potatoes and strawberries using hydroponics. While the foods grew, the environment’s temperature, humidity, water, light, and nutrient levels are constantly monitored using sensors in order to mimic Martian conditions as closely as possible.
Their pseudo-Martian farm has yielded 10 times more produce than earthbound open fields, fueling hopes that Mars-based astronauts will someday also enjoy the luxury of locally sourced foods. Growing produce under such tightly controlled conditions cuts out the risk of unexpected diseases and contamination with pathogens. Given the farm’s initial success, there’s a fair chance the Mars-oriented technology could be used to combat food shortages here on Earth too.