Fiction often has an uncanny habit of predicting reality. Take the sci-fi movie The Martian, in which astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) survives on Mars largely thanks to his ingenious potato crop. When the film was released last year, a Netherlands-based consortium had made plans to send people to the red planet, but was still working on the details – such as ways to grow fresh produce the way Watney does in the film.
Now, scientists have grown 10 edible crops in simulated Martian soil. This suggests that agriculture may be viable for the potential astronauts, including two from the UAE, who are in the race to be part of the Mars One project set to lift off in 2026.
Crops on Mars would have uses beyond food. Since plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, they could be critical if we ever try to transform the planet into a more hospitable one with a breathable atmosphere. In the grand tradition of Jules Verne and HG Wells, The Martian's director, Ridley Scott, and the story's original author Andy Weir, have shown us a slice of the future.