Spotlight

From: De Gruyter Open
Published March 29, 2017 01:06 PM

Not a Pipe Dream Anymore - Space-Farming: A Long Legacy Leading us to Mars

Following a new NASA bill, passed in March by the US Congress and which authorizes $19.5 billion spending for space exploration in 2017, manned missions to Mars are closer to reality than ever before.

As both public and private enterprises gear up towards a return to the Moon and the first human footsteps on the Red Planet, there is a renewed focus on keeping people alive and productive in these extreme environments. Plants, and specifically crop plants, will be a major component of proposed regenerative life-support systems as they provide food, oxygen, scrub carbon dioxide, and aid in water recycling – all in a self-regenerating or ‘bioregenerative’ fashion. Without a doubt, plants are a requirement for any sufficiently long duration (time and distance wise) human space exploration mission. There has been a great deal of research in this area - research that has not only advanced Agriculture in Space, but has resulted in a great many Earth-based advances as well (e.g., LED lighting for greenhouse and vertical farm applications; new seed potato propagation techniques, etc.)

A recent article by Dr. Raymond M. Wheeler from the NASA Kennedy Space Center, now available in open access in the journal Open Agriculture, provides an informative and comprehensive account of the various international historical and current contributions to bioregenerative life-support and the use of controlled environment agriculture for human space exploration. Covering all the major developments of international teams, it relates some of this work to technology transfer which proves valuable here on Earth.

Research in the area started in 1950s and 60s through the works of Jack Myers and others, who studied algae for oxygen production and carbon dioxide removal for the US Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Studies on algal production and controlled environment agriculture were also carried out by Russian researchers in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia beginning in the 1960s including tests with human crews whose air, water, and much of their food were provided by wheat and other crops. NASA initiated its Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems (CELSS) Program in the early 1980s with testing focused on controlled environment production of wheat, soybean, potato, lettuce, and sweet potato. Findings from these studies paved the way to conduct tests in a 20 m2, atmospherically closed chamber located at Kennedy Space Center.

Read more at De Gruyter Open

Photo credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

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