In an effort to stave off famine here on Earth, NASA is planning to grow food in space…..Wait a minute! That can’t be right!
So why did NASA in the last week or so announce a project to grow plants on the International Space Station? Unbeknown to most of you NASA has been conducting plant growing experiments for awhile to see what would be optimal nutritionally should astronauts eventually establish permanent Deep Space habitations, lunar colonies or even attempt a trip to Mars.
Plant testing in space up to now has been all about academic experiments. I have written about some of these. But now NASA is ready to develop a vegetable production system it has aptly named VEGGIE. The first project will grow six romaine lettuce plants using pink LED lamps. This project will start in December on the International Space Station (ISS). NASA is confident that zero gravity will have little affect on plant growth. The remaining concern focuses on potential space-borne contaminants. For example could it be possible that a cosmic microbe infects the romaine and hence kills the vegetation or gets absorbed by human crews that eat the produce? To ensure such a thing doesn’t happen NASA will thoroughly test anything grown by the ISS before anyone eats a bite.
NASA has other plans for food production up its sleeve. A 3D printer developed by Systems & Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) was recently given a NASA grant to develop a food synthesizer. Another recent experiment called HI-SEAS, involved isolating a team of six for four months under a dome on a Hawaiian lava field with food that might be eaten by astronauts on a flight to Mars. Apparently Nutella was a big hit although it had to be rationed. Much of the rest of the diet was freeze dried and not all that gastronomically exciting.
China has also gotten into the game with an ecological closed system that they have been testing for taikonauts to use in long endurance space missions or for habitations on the Moon and Mars.