New York: You must have witnessed smart-space farming by Hollywood actor Matt Damon in The Martian, as he struggled to survive on the Red Planet. But for NASA, space farming is already a reality.
In August this year, six astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) became the first people to eat red romaine lettuce grown at the veggie plant growth system aboard the orbiting laboratory in space. NASA is funding Bruce Bugbee, director of the plants, soils and climate department at Utah State University, to help grow food in difficult space conditions.
“What we have focused on is just growing a few salad crops. Growing some lettuce, growing some radishes and they help to recycle the water,” Bugbee said.
A number of technologies NASA has explored for these space-farming experiments have returned to Earth over the years and found their way into the market.
Mission Mars: On September 28, NASA announced a new discovery that provided the “strongest evidence yet” of salty liquid water currently existing on the Red Planet. File Pic/AFP
NASA’s plant experiment— Veg-01, is being used to study the in-orbit function of the plant growth facility and its rooting “pillows” that contain the seeds.
The first “pillows” were activated, watered and cared for by Expedition 39 flight engineer Steve Swanson in May 2014.
After 33 days of growth, the plants were harvested and returned to Earth in October 2014. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the plants underwent food safety analysis.
The second “Veg-01 plant pillows” were activated by Kelly on July 8 and grew again for 33 days before being harvested.
The seeds had been on the station for 15 months before being activated. The veggie unit features a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation.