Space Awareness

Space Gardening: Our Future Food Source

Written by: developer

by Colleen Parith, Space Foundation – Social Media & Public Relations Coordinator

Various space agencies around the world, including NASA, have their sights set on getting humans to Mars within the next 20 to 30 years. Getting mankind to another planet is much more than simply getting us there. At the shortest, the voyage to the red planet will take about nine months.

In the past nine months, there have been seven resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Each of these missions delivered 5,000 – 6,000 pounds of cargo to the astronauts aboard the ISS. These missions delivered supplies, equipment, clothing, fuel, experiments and food, totaling more than 35,000 pounds of supplies. Knowing that a mission to Mars will not be able to accept supplies while on its journey, it will need to have everything required for those nine months on board, including food.

Earth-bound scientists understand this need and are successfully working diligently on finding ways to grow food in space. In the fall of 2015, the astronauts on the ISS successfully grew red romaine lettuce, which made headlines around the world. This was the first time food was grown in space, and had received clearance to be eaten by NASA.

Variety in food is appreciated by astronauts. Even on Earth, we would get bored eating the same thing every day. German-based Bake In Space, is hoping to help astronauts bake their own, crumb-free, fresh bread. (You don’t want crumbs in space, the lack of gravity can create large problems!)

While we can’t grow bread or chicken sandwiches in space, scientists are working on what can be grown from a small seed that stores easily. The European Space Agency (ESA) is working on a citizen science project called AstroPlant. The initiative aims to inspire home-gardeners, schools, urban farmers and enthusiasts to nourish seeds selected by the Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative, or MELiSSA team. Data recorded via a smartphone app will be sent to ESA for processing. If the team chose to do the work alone, it would take years to grow each crop and record the data. Doing the project in a citizen science format allows the team to gather data from people around the world, growing a variety of crops.

Government space agencies aren’t the only ones working toward growing food in space. The Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs is spending the summer learning about what it takes to grow food in space. The theme for this year’s Summer of Discovery is Space Gardening: Our Future Food Source. We began by asking visitors and our social media followers what crops we should grow this summer. Given the selection of green onion, peas, lettuce and radish, we arrived at a winner – lettuce. On June 23 and 24, we constructed our hydroponics growing system, as in space, you can’t simply turn on the faucet to water their crops. Hydroponics allows you to conserve and use water effectively.

A hydroponics fair will be held at the Discovery Center on Saturday, July 15, featuring local hydroponics companies that will share their knowledge of the systems. The following week, guests will learn about the rocks and soil of Mars and why we believe we can grow crops on the red planet.

We also started some “Martian Potatoes” earlier in the year (pictured left), but have used a slightly different method than Mark Watney used in The Martian.

On July 29, visitors to the Discovery Center will learn about filtration and conservation of water. The summer will wrap up on Saturday, Aug. 12, as we pick and taste-test our vegetables.

For a full schedule of Summer of Discovery events, view our online calendar. Track the status of our space garden on Instagram and all of our social media channels.

Summer of Discovery is sponsored by Raytheon.

This article is part of Space Watch: July 2017 (Volume: 16, Issue: 7).