NASA is ready to plant new varieties and larger quantities of food in the gardens of the International Space Station as part of its Moon to Mars program.
As astronauts in orbit harvest and sample space-grown leafy vegetables, scientists in the field in Florida are developing new space cultures using the same equipment.
Growing food in space is now part of NASA’s Artemis missions to travel to the moon and Mars, as the agency discovered that gardens on board improve astronaut nutrition, psychology and health.
NASA plans to accelerate the production of fresh food in space by adding more grow rooms in the coming years.
Plants grow on the ground exactly as in space – except for weightlessness. This allows NASA to target new varieties of plants that could grow on the space station, such as radishes, tomatoes and peppers.
The space agency is also studying the difference between plants grown in space and those grown on the ground to spot any differences.
A study of the space station plants from 2014 to 2016 found nutrient levels similar to those grown on the ground, except for a crop that had slightly lower levels. NASA has concluded that it can produce fresh, edible and fresh food to supplement the diet of astronauts.
Growing large quantities of vegetables in a weightless environment is a challenge that NASA says must be overcome to combat deep space travel, particularly to send people to Mars.
Fresh food is not only nutritional, but it also contributes to the mood of astronauts, as they often signal a need for more flavor during long missions, said Matthew Romeyn, NASA project scientist for the space station.
He said space gardens also benefit astronauts psychologically, while research has shown that water and garden structures can block space radiation. Large gardens could improve oxygen levels because plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen.
“Astronauts love to see something green and growing in the barren space environment,” said Romeyn. “They regularly ask what they want to develop [during] their missions. “
For this reason, NASA envisions that the astronauts would continue with certain gardening tasks while the automated systems handle most of the work, he said.
The space station has two small growth units called Veggies, which astronauts tend to, and new advanced plant habitat that requires less maintenance.
Habitat is no bigger than an apartment mini-fridge. It regulates temperature, light, oxygen and water, and can be controlled by technicians in the field.
NASA plans to add more advanced habitats to increase plant production enough to have important products for longer missions.
The chronology of NASA’s Moon to Mars program predicts that humans will land on the moon again by 2024 for sustainable exploration and use, and then to demonstrate the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.
Romeyn said the space station is easy to replenish freight – but NASA wants as much durability on board as possible.
The astronauts “could be in space and on Mars for years,” said Romeyn. NASA said it would take approximately nine months for a crewed spacecraft to reach the planet.
He said NASA hopes to make fresh food a regular part of the menu, although long-term stored food is still needed.
Plants grow easily in space, but it is difficult to water them properly. This is because the water floats in space, so various sponges or absorbent materials are used to hold the water for the roots to access. Early attempts to grow plants failed due to too little or too much water.
“Microgravity is the biggest obstacle to overcome. It’s hard to get the exact amount of water and the amount of nutrients, “said Robert Richter, director of environmental systems at Sierra Nevada Corp., a NASA entrepreneur. develop advanced housing.
Astronauts’ time to maintain the plants is limited in space, especially since missions have been reduced as NASA negotiates more seats on Russian Soyuz rockets.
The planned replacement for Russian launches, the new capsules from Boeing and SpaceX, is more than two years behind schedule. The space station’s gardens are currently empty as a new batch of seeds awaits planting, said Romeyn.
Richter and the Sierra Nevada are working on an expanded version of advanced habitat that could cover a significant portion of the walls of a space station module.
“The end goal is really to have fresh food on long missions,” said Richter. “We find that dehydrated meals lose their nutrients over time, and you can’t beat the fresh flavor of something that’s essentially alive when you eat it. “
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