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Unearthing Futures

Potato Berry
50 potato seeds inside the Sojourner 2020 pocket, ready for their journey to the International Space Station. Photo credit: Wenjun Liang

Potato Seed
Space Mission 
 Collaboration between Xin LIU and Lucia Monge

Mission Potato: How do we cultivate the future? Is the future a high-performing, "engineered-to-perfection" single solution? Or is it a diversity of options/avenues that can help us adapt and resist the changing climate? We are looking to potatoes for answers. 

Native to Peru, potatoes are now the fifth most-grown crop worldwide and among the first chosen to be grown by the Chinese Space Agency for its Moon landing. In both agriculture and politics today, there is a movement towards monoculture. In our mission, we call on potatoes (in their more than 4,000 varieties), to carry alternative narratives of what the future might look like. We choose multiplicity instead of the singular, a vision for anti-colonial planetary futures. 

 In March 2020, we selected 150 true potato seeds with the help of the International Potato Center and then sent them into Earth's lower orbit. They traveled onboard the International Space Station for a month before returning to Earth. We germinated, grew, and harvested them in our backyards in New York City and Portland alongside potatoes seeds that stayed on earth. The purpose of Earth siblings is to compare their growth and look for morphological changes caused by their time in space. The six varieties of Peruvian potatoes that traveled to space are the protagonists of our project.

Yello Potato Baby

50cm x 50cm x 125cm
Iron, fiberglass, acrylic

Purple Potato Baby

50cm x 50cm x 136cm     
Iron, fiberglass, acrylic


1.5m x 1.5m x 6m    
Iron, brass, sawdust, stainless steel

After the seeds returned back to us from ISS, we started the germination process in petri dishes so we could follow the process closely. Each petri dish was divided in two and held “space seeds” on one side and “earth seeds” on the other side. Both groups of seeds correspond to the same family. Pink labels indicate seeds that were on low-earth orbit for a month (space seeds), and yellow labels indicate seeds from the same family that remained on Earth (earth seeds). 

After the initial germination period, the seedlings were transplanted into small soil pellets and placed indoors. Finally, they were transplanted into pots and are growing outside covered by a mesh to protect them from hungry insects. They are planted in individual pots and maintain their yellow and pink labels so that we can grow them in the same conditions but follow their process separately. This will allow us to see if there are any morphological changes caused by their time without gravity.

This is an ongoing project, and we are eager to work with people. Please reach out!