Pioneering space exploration comes with all sorts of challenges. As we push the limits of space exploration we also push the limits of the humanity. Longer and deeper space travel will take more resources for a longer period of time. With limited space available on the spacecraft, astronauts need to find the most efficient way to grow plants to sustain them on their long journey.
Expedition 44 crew members have successfully grown and consumed the first space grown leafy greens. They used “rooting pillows” to start the seeds then placed them in a hydroponic system with artificially lighting of red, blue, and green. The red and the blue lights will ensure the plants are growing while the green will make the food look naturally appealing.
Using hydroponics makes it much easier to grow in space. With no heavy soil to bring with and limited evaporation saving water usage the system neatly fits into any environment. Astronauts can adjust nutrient levels in the system to meet, but not exceed, the ideal nutrient levels for each plant. Every input nutrient is conserved to plan for the maximum output.
Growing plants in space can also help the space travelers go further while limiting the physiological damage of each person. Alexandra Whitmire, a Behavioral Health and Performance Research scientist at NASA, is studying the effects growing plants on humans. She has found that growing plants are associated with well-being and optimal performance.
Growing plants in space can give astronauts meaningful work while traveling in long-duration exploration missions.
Growing plants on space missions will start to be a standard practice as humans push the limits of space exploration. Growing will allow for longer and more meaningful missions, all while conserving resources. Growers on Earth could learn a few things from these practices. Limit the land space used while growing more food all while using less resources. No matter where you are, growing with efficiency will lead to conservation.
Jake Frazier is an outdoor enthusiast and the owner of Residential Ecology, a sustainable ecological resource management company. He uses existing natural systems to improve the quality of life for both humans and the Earth. Jake is interested in permaculture, living systems and exploring. Connect with him on LinkedIn.