Space gardening sounds nuts, but it’s what astronomers need to survive is they want to explore deeper into space. NASA knows that gardening in space is a crucial factor for future explorations. Here on Earth, everyone tries to make plants grow in harsh conditions.
If you were wondering what’s wrong with freeze dried foods, we have the answer. Vitamins break down in these foods and astronauts risk to develop diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and various infections.
Gravity doesn’t help in space. Imagine watering plants with no gravity. Light is also a key factor to a plant’s growth. It also needs proper ventilation. How will these issues be solved?
Botanists and Students Practice Space Gardening on Earth
Well, NASA turns towards botanists and gardeners to find a way and practice space gardening.
Without gravity, seeds can float away. Water doesn’t pour, but globs up and may drown the roots. And artificial lights and fans must be rigged just right to replicate the sun and wind.
But NASA has decided that gardening in space will be crucial for the next generation of explorers, who need to feed themselves on missions to the Moon or Mars that may last months or years.
One of the projects has started at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, where the director Carl Lewis explains some of the challenges in picking the right plants:
“There are tens of thousands of edible plants on Earth that would presumably be useful, and it becomes a big problem to choose which of those plants are the best for producing food for astronauts. And that is where we come in.”
The garden is based in Miami, and researchers found that 106 types of plants can resist in space and are very healthy (like hardy cabbages and leafy lettuces).
The study has gathered 15,000 student botanists from 150 schools. They had to grow plants in a condition similar to space, and they did it in their classrooms. NASA paid a $1.24 million grant for the four-year project, which is now midway through.
Students use trays that mimic grow boxes from space. They tend to the plants and record their progress which they later share with NASA.
Growing Plants in Space
Astronauts on the space station at 400 km above Earth have tried to garden too. Some of their plants died or didn’t germinate. But in 2015, the first space lettuce was a success. Now, there are two Veggie grow boxes on the ISS, and a third one is called Advanced Plant Habitat.
NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold went live with students at Fairchild in April and said:
“The textures of [freeze-dried] food are all kind of very similar. When we are able to harvest our own lettuce here, just having a different texture to enjoy is a really nice diversion from the standard menu.”
NASA now wants to automatize space gardening with robots, but astronauts said that they like taking care of the plants. It’s what connects them to Earth. NASA research scientist Trent Smith admits that too: “The psychological benefits can be important for astronauts.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.