Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
  Mars Exploration News  




Subscribe free to our newsletters via your




















Galaxy Gardening More Than Hobby For Future Moon And Mars Residents

Pots of lettuce thrive in specially designed low-pressure chambers designed by Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researchers to mimic conditions on the moon and Mars. Credit: Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, photo by Kathleen Phillips.
by Staff Writers
College Station TX (SPX) Oct 06, 2006
Long periods of total darkness and poor soil needn't stop an avid gardener - at least not one who's willing to go out of this world to grow plants. Lush lettuce is growing by galactic measure in cylinders designed by Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researchers to mimic conditions on the moon and Mars.

"We're to the point now that we are confident with the systems we have developed, though it may not ultimately look like this (lab model)," said Dr. Fred Davies, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station horticulturist.

The research, part of the National Air and Space Administration's "Salad Bowl" project, is unique in that university-based scientists are tasked with finding a way to produce food in spatial conditions unparalleled on Earth.

Two certainties make this work important, the researchers believe: Humans will continue to explore uncharted expanses of the universe, and where humans go, food is a must.

"Exploration is part of our blood. Ultimately, we will start to inhabit on lunar and Martian surfaces in the near future," Davies said.

For now, food is transported in shuttles in quantities to last a space trip. Food also is taken to the International Space Station for the three people who work there in six-month stints.

Astronaut fare has gone from "bite-sized foods suitable for eating with one's fingers, and pureed foods, squeezed directly into the mouth from flexible metal toothpaste-type tubes" to some 200 different menu selections now including fresh tortillas and chicken fajita meat served on more appealing food trays, according to NASA food nutritionists.

But ultimately, for people to live in space for longer periods, self-sustaining food production would be vital, Davies noted.

Enter agriculture. The age-old profession is much on the minds of space exploration scientists.

Davies said green produce in space has both nutritional and psychological benefits. While leafy lettuce may provide humans with essential nutrients such as vitamin A, it also provides a welcomed fresh texture for astronauts who quickly get their fill of reconstituted food.

"A part that is important is the psychology of eating something that is green, smells like something you are used to on Earth, that has some texture to it and some freshness," Davies said.

Developing equipment to hurl humans into space has been less a challenge for engineers than finding ways to grow food. Mainly, all the earthly conditions that make plants thrive either don't exist or are vastly different in space.

The moon, for example, has no atmospheric pressure (vital for the development of clouds and rainfall) and only one-sixth the gravity of Earth. Its days, or period of light, last the equivalent of about a month on Earth and are followed by the equivalent of two weeks of darkness, Davies pointed out. And it has no carbon, which is essential for photosynthesis.

Mars, on the other hand, has an atmosphere that is about 95 percent carbon dioxide and an atmospheric pressure one-hundredth that of Earth's. And while a Martian day is a little longer than earth's 24-hour period, there is less available light for plant growth, the researcher noted.

To figure out how to grow plants in space, scientists first had to toss out what is known about plant production. They also had to design, build and operate growing chambers to work under space-like conditions. That meant developing chambers that would work in low pressure and provide plants with what's needed to photosynthesize, or grow and yield adequate quantities of food.

Thus far, their research has shown that the plants are doing better in the low-pressure conditions.

"The advantage to low pressure means we have to have less materials which means less cost," said Dr. Ron Lacey, Experiment Station agricultural engineer. "But to create a system for plants to grow in low pressure is very challenging."

Lacey said previous research on such systems had numerous issues with leakage - perhaps leaking the whole volume of air in a day.

"But we were able to create a very tight system that only leak about 1.5 percent of its volume per day or less," Lacey said, "and we see some very interesting things going on (with plant growth)."

"We have found that the plants grow better in the low pressure, and also that the gas ethylene has a big effect on plant growth," said Dr. Chuan He, Experiment Station researcher who plants, harvests and analyzes the lettuce for quality. Plants under low pressure produce less ethylene and use-up less carbohydrates at night (lower dark-period respiration), which produces larger heads of lettuce.

He, who said tending plants on Mars is his wished-for occupation, has sampled the product of his labors.

"The lettuce actually tastes quite good," He said.

Davies noted that plants also are useful for producing oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide, both important factors for humans.

"It may be that these plants are grown below ground in special growth chambers on Mars and the moon," Davies said. "They are looking at ways to be able to catch and store light on the moon and then be able to use that light later on."

Community
Email This Article
Comment On This Article

Related Links
Horticulture At TAMU
Lunar Dreams and more
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
Space Station News at Space-Travel.Com
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
Lunar Dreams and more



Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News


NASA Announces Public Meeting For Proposed Mars Mission
Pasadena CA (SPX) Oct 05, 2006
NASA officials will be available Tuesday, Oct. 10, from 1 to 4 p.m. EDT to exchange information and receive public comments about the recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Mars Science Laboratory mission. The meeting will be at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, Congressional 'A' Conference Room, 400 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington.









  • Could NASA Get To Pluto Faster? Space Expert Says Yes - By Thinking Nuclear
  • NASA plans to send new robot to Jupiter
  • Los Alamos Hopes To Lead New Era Of Nuclear Space Tranportion With Jovian Mission
  • Boeing Selects Leader for Nuclear Space Systems Program

  • NASA Seeks Undergrads To Experiment In Lunar And Zero Gravity
  • NASA Opens New Door To Exploration
  • Indian Moon Mission To Launch By Early 2008
  • India Space Agency Dreams Of Lunar Ice Mines

  • NASA Administrator And Test Pilots Have Meeting Of The (Brilliant) Minds
  • Urals Resort Picked As Post-Mission Recovery Base For Cosmonauts
  • NASA And Partners To Create Center For Space Science And Technology
  • UP Aerospace Recovers Payloads After Inaugural Launch From New Mexico's Spaceport America

  • New Horizons Spacecraft Snaps Approach Image of the Giant Planet
  • Does The Atmosphere Of Pluto Go Through The Fast-Freeze
  • Changing Seasons On The Road Trip To Planet Nine
  • Surprises From The Edge Of The Solar System

  • Exploring Europa By Way Of The Arctic
  • Junior Spot Zips Past Great Red Spot On Jupiter
  • Gemini Captures Close Encounter Of Two Jupiter Red Spots
  • Gas Giants Consistently Larger Than Their Moons

  • Flying Over The Cloudy World
  • Venus Express Spies Double Vortex
  • Venus Express Commissioning Phase Completed
  • Venus Express Reaches Final Mission Orbit

  • Chinese Lantern Technique Helps Track Clouds At Saturn
  • The Halo Of Titan
  • Scientists Discover New Ring And Other Features At Saturn
  • Rings of Saturn To Shine As Never Seen Before

  • NSF Awards Texas Advanced Computing Center For High-Performance Computing
  • Ball Aerospace Selects Velocity For Enterprise Process Execution System
  • An Amazing Andromeda
  • Goodrich Technology On Board Solar Physics Satellite Solar-B

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2006 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA PortalReports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additionalcopyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement