Researchers Test Out New Theories for Future Space Farming

Jack Wassik, Sci/Tech Editor

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The prospect of traveling to Mars in recent years has moved from science fiction to reality as organizations including NASA and SpaceX try to find ways to travel and eventually colonize the red planet.

Among the many steps in order to achieve this goal is providing enough food for the journey and colonization.

This past week, scientists in Norway and the Netherlands have published results that show great promise for the future of space farming.

Of the many issues of growing plants in space, Silje Wolff, a plant physiologist at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space in Trondheim, Norway, ran trial and error experiments growing lettuce. Wolff accomplished this by precisely controlling the environment in which the lettuce was grown. She hopes that her experiments can continue on the International Space Station.

These conditions had to be controlled in order for the harsh aspects of space to be offset, such as oxygen deprivation and stuffy atmosphere, which could dehydrate the crops.

“We grew the plants and germinated them and then we transferred them to different nutrient treatments and recorded data on everything going into and coming out of the leaf,” said Wolff.

Due to the long travel journey of six to nine months, lettuce is sought after because it grows quickly, making it ideal for research purposes.

“It’s not the most nutritious plant so now we’re working with beans with higher protein and nutritional value,” said Wolff. “We foresee a multicrop system to fulfill an astronaut’s nutritional requirements.” Replacing soil with different concentrations of a solution of nutrients and water solvent, Wolff studied which conditions the crops grew best in.

Though there is still the issue of oxygen deprivation, as cold and warm water doesn’t differentiate in space, Wolff suggests using a centrifuge on the International Space Station in order to allow the crops some gravity.

With more and more work conducted, the promise of feeding astronauts on expanded journeys is becoming more and more of a reality.