;IN THE MARTIAN, A SCIENCE FICTION BOOK BY ANDY WEIR and a Hollywood movie blockbuster, Mark Watney is stranded on Mars after his fellow NASA astronauts think he died and leave the Red Planet without him. Watney is left with space suits and a
controlled-environment habitation module (or Hab), but he does not have
enough food and water to survive until NASA sends a rescue mission.
Several years could go by while Watney waits to be rescued, and
many things could go wrong. For example, if the system that provides
him with oxygen stops working, Watney could die, because the atmo-
sphere of Mars does not contain enough oxygen for humans to survive.
The good news is that Watney, who is a botanist, has some potatoes
in the Hab that he can use to produce more food as he waits for NASA
to rescue him. The bad news is that Mars is a desert planet, where no
plants have ever grown before.
In the story, Watney’s botany skills help him survive the ordeal. He
uses the potatoes NASA packed for his Mars expedition along with his
own feces and manages to grow potatoes in a small farm inside
the Hab. Also, his knowledge of chemistry allows him to
make water, which he uses to irrigate the potatoes.
Improvising a Martian potato farm and producing
water from scratch sound more fiction than sci-
ence. But research suggests that some soils on
Mars could be used to grow plants.
So how exactly did Watney fertilize Martian
soil? Is it possible to make water on Mars?
Even though Mars has an environment that is harsh for life as we
know it, it appears to be the most habitable planet in our solar system,
besides Earth. According to NASA, billions of years ago, Mars even had
oceans like our own. Some places on Earth have been used to study
Mars, since their environments are somewhat similar to conditions
on Mars. Parts of Antarctica, Hawaii, and South America are examples of such places.
Scientists have been studying Mars since the early 1960s. They have
sent small spacecraft that flew by, orbited, and landed on Mars. These
spacecraft found that although some places on Earth look like Mars, the
Red Planet is indeed a harsh environment for life.
The atmosphere on Mars has about 95% carbon dioxide, which
would make it impossible for humans to breathe. Mars is also much
colder than Earth. This is mostly because the Red Planet is farther away
from the sun than Earth. NASA’s Viking mission, which landed
on Mars in 1976, recorded average temperatures of –81 ºF,
which is colder than either the North or South poles here
on Earth. If exposed to Mars’s temperatures, plants,
humans, and other living beings would freeze.
By Roberto Molar Candanosa
NASA scientists are shown performing field tests in
Arizona to prepare for the challenges of exploring
destinations in space, such as Mars.
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