Scientists explore ways to grow plants for food in space


NASA’s plans to send astronauts back to the moon in 2024 — and then on to Mars in the 2030s — has spawned renewed fervor among the nation’s astro-botanists to find a viable way to grow food in space.

“The vitamins and quality [of packaged foods] degrade over time,” said Gioia Massa, a NASA plant scientist. “They don’t have a long enough shelf life to get sufficient vitamins to Mars and back. Fresh produce may fill those gaps.”

That’s the start of a long list of reasons scientists want to master outer-space gardening. With their ability to generate oxygen, filter water and produce food, plants have long been sought for space voyages.

Failing to grow food in space could stop humanity from becoming an interplanetary species.

“If we ever want to be truly Earth-independent, we will have to be able to grow and recycle food away from Earth,” Massa said. “We can’t just keep shipping stuff from Earth.”

It may sound like science fiction, but scientists are well on their way, Massa said.

Research began in the 1970s. In those early days, scientists had grand hopes of creating advanced life-support systems exclusively using plants. The idea was to build enclosed systems in which plants would supply all the oxygen, clean water and food necessary to keep astronauts alive during space travel. The same systems would then be used in permanent off-world colonies.

“The model being used by NASA mimicked on a small scale what Earth does all the time with an ecosystem,” said Cary Mitchell, a horticulture professor at Purdue University in Indiana, who has conducted research in growing plants in space since the late 1970s.

Growing plants in space turned out to be problematic — and expensive, Mitchell said. Early attempts failed. The entire process took up too much of a ship’s limited space and power to be feasible.

The idea for a mini-Earthlike ecosystem quickly was replaced by mechanical life-support systems, and astro-botanists turned their attention to answering the much more fundamental question: Can plants grow in space?

“Our first question was, would plants grow without gravity?” Mitchell said. “In the absence of gravity, we weren’t sure how a plant would orient itself. How would it know what direction to grow?”

(That particular question took several decades to answer. A 2010 NASA experiment on the International Space Station determined that, yes, plants do fine without gravity. They inexplicably knew which directions to send their roots and greens.)

Scientists forged ahead finding and answering other questions, Mitchell said.

Since the early 1980s, Mitchell and other plant scientists conducted NASA-funded research looking for plants that grow well under artificial lighting in sterile environments with various cocktails of nutrients.

Eventually, “NASA became more interested in rocket technology,” Mitchell said. “They pulled a lot of funding for life science research around 2006. From 2006 until recently, a lot of that research mostly stopped, and people fell away from the field.”

The tide began to swing back in 2014 when Massa, who did postdoctoral work with Mitchell, received funding to send a plant growth system called “Veggie” to the space station.

With that, Massa “brought the advanced life-support concept back to NASA,” Mitchell said.

Veggie has operated aboard the ISS for five years. With it, astronauts grew red romaine lettuce and, after a few failed attempts, zinnias. In 2018, the Advanced Plant Habitat was added. It’s a larger growth chamber, about the size of a mini-fridge, “designed to test which growth conditions plants prefer in space,” according to a NASA release.

The growth systems do not yet provide food for astronauts aboard the space station, but each year, new plants are tested, and NASA scientists learn better how to grow them in space, Massa said.

“We hope one day astronauts can grow a full diet,” Massa said. “But that’s going to take a lot of time and space.”

That might not happen on spaceships, at least not in the immediate future. With existing science, it’s much more likely such gardens will appear on humanity’s first off-world colonies, either on the moon or Mars.

“The big goals are to look at sustainable methods for producing plants in space and on other planets,” Massa said. “These are big, complicated challenges, but we will have to overcome them if we ever want to be more than a single planet faring species.”


Comment With Facebook

Comments (406)

  1. I do not even understand how I stopped up right here, but I believed this put up used to be good. I do not recognise who you’re but definitely you’re going to a well-known blogger in the event you are not already. Cheers!|

  2. I always used to study article in news papers but now
    as I am a user of net therefore from now I am using net for articles or reviews, thanks to web.

    Also visit my web site – CBD products

  3. buy cialis online 5mg cialis
    viagra vs cialis vs levitra

  4. bookmarked!!, I love your blog!

    Also visit my web-site: CBD oil for arthritis

  5. side effects for cialis cheapest cialis web prices
    current cost of cialis 5mg cvs

  6. Your way of explaining all in this paragraph is really fastidious, every one be able to without difficulty understand it, Thanks a lot.

    Also visit my blog post CBD products

  7. My developer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on numerous websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform. I have heard good things about Is there a way I can import all my wordpress posts into it? Any help would be really appreciated!

  8. I’ve been browsing on-line more than three hours lately, but I never found any attention-grabbing article like yours. It’s pretty value enough for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made just right content material as you did, the net will be a lot more helpful than ever before.

  9. Hi, just required you to know I he added your site to my Google bookmarks due to your layout. But seriously, I believe your internet site has 1 in the freshest theme I??ve came across. It extremely helps make reading your blog significantly easier.

  10. I am really inspired together with your writing talents as neatly as with the structure for your blog. Is this a paid subject matter or did you modify it your self? Anyway stay up the nice quality writing, it’s uncommon to look a nice weblog like this one today..|

  11. The writer’s name is Miss Epley. My family lives in Connecticut. It’s not merely a common thing but a few things i like doing is solving puzzles having said that i don’t have the time not too lengthy ago. The job she’s been occupying institutions and individuals is a person resources assistant but she plans on changing it’s. See what’s new on my website here: #link#

  12. Snrclt uljuqm Buy viagra Viagra alternative

  13. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  14. *A blog like yours should be earning much money from adsense..-.,”

  15. Hello, just wanted to mention, I liked this blog post.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!

    Also visit my blog – latest blog

  16. I don’t even know how I finished up here, however I
    believed this publish was good. I do not recognise who you’re but definitely you’re
    going to a famous blogger should you aren’t already. Cheers!

    My website … click reference

  17. generic viagra without subscription walmart: viagra without a doctor prescription cheap viagra real

  18. when will generic viagra be available: genuine viagra without a doctor prescription buy cialis uk cheap

  19. I very like this blog. Everything is cleared.

  20. I very like this blog. Everything is cleared.

  21. Hello, of course this piece of writing is genuinely pleasant and I have learned lot of things from it on the topic of blogging. thanks.|

Comment here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.