By Adam Campbell-Schmitt
Updated February 22, 2016
Credit: © ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

One of the more thrilling aspects of last year's breakout comedy(?) masterpiece The Martian was watching potatoes grow. OK, it was the prospect of whether or not they would grow that was thrilling. That and watching Jason Bourne dig through his own feces. We've already questioned whether the science in the movie is applicable to a real life Mars expedition. But NASA is doubling down on Matt Damon's poo-tato farm concept by actually growing potatoes in Peru under conditions that mimic the Martian atmosphere and soil.

The experiment began in January at Lima's International Potato Center, which is a real place and the destination of my next pilgrimage. Over 100 varieties of potatoes will be tested for their ability to survive the harsh conditions necessary for interplanetary colonization. The soil for the project was brought in from South America's Atacama Desert, which closely resembles a Martian landscape and chemical composition. The results of these experiments could be a key to unlocking the possibility of near-future astronauts living on Mars. Who knew that the humble ground-dwelling potato would be as integral to space exploration as rocket fuel?