Science 3 min read

China's Potato Astronaut Goes to the Moon

Iourii Tcheka |

Iourii Tcheka |

The Chinese lunar probe, Chang’e 4, will carry potato seeds to the moon.

In Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”, a botanist astronaut finds himself abandoned on Mars. Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) survived on Mars by growing potatoes using human excrement as fertilizer and was able to hold out for hundreds of days. Now, in China, a potato astronaut will be the country’s first living organism to land on the Moon.

Chinese scientists will grow potatoes on the Moon by 2018.Click To Tweet

Watney’s feat could be replicated in real life, as potatoes can potentially grow in extreme conditions such as on Mars.

As part of NASA’s “Potatoes on Mars” experiments, researchers at the International Potato Center, in collaboration with NASA’s Ames Research Center, succeeded in growing potatoes under the same climatic conditions as in Mars.

By 2018, Potato Astronaut to go Forth and be Fruitful on the Moon

At the Global Space Exploration Conference, GLEX 2017, held from June 6th to the 8th in Beijing, Chinese researchers announced that they will try to grow potatoes on the moon in 2018.

A team of researchers from several institutions, led by Chongqing University, will send abroad the Chang’e-4 mission, a “moon-surface mini ecosphere” containing potato seeds, silkworm eggs, and cress seeds.

The 3-kilogram vessel, 16 cm in diameter and 18 cm in height, is made of a special aluminum alloy to retain the proper conditions (humidity and temperature) for the seeds and insects, as well as water, soil, air and other research tools. The mini-ecosphere will also allow for natural light to reach the potato astronaut and assist its growth.

The vessel is also outfitted with cameras that will live-stream the whole operation (plants blooming and the incubation of the silkworm eggs) to the world.

Turning the Potato Into a Chinese Staple Food

In China, where intensive development left about 60% of ground water polluted and some 3 million farms too contaminated to grow crops, the Chinese government is pushing for a change in diet.

China is already the world’s largest producer of potatoes, but the Chinese don’t like eating this spud too much, often regarded as an animal food or for the poor.

However, in recent years, potatoes (French fries) are gaining in popularity with the arrival of American fast food chains.

Thanks, McDonald’s.

To entice its people to eat more potato, the Chinese government has launched a major pro-potato research and promotion operation, including potato-themed restaurants, songs, and new recipes (potato cakes and noodles).

Now, with this lunar mission scheduled to be completed before the end of 2018, perhaps the potato astronaut and its heroic journey will inspire the Chinese population to really swoon over spuds.

Potatoes are low-maintenance compared to rice, they can sustain harsh climate conditions, are easier to grow and require much less water. For these same reasons, the Chinese lunar mission chose to grow potato on the moon, instead of rice (which would have been extremely difficult).

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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