NASA has unveiled its designs for a range of inflatable greenhouses that will allow for sustainable farming on Mars, if and when humanity should ever reach the planet.
Recently, famed astronaut Peggy Whitson has proven the limits of human existence in space is growing, after 534 days away from planet earth, Peggy has become the record holder for the longest amount of time spent in space by a US astronaut. This feat of endurance now brings into focus the challenge of sustainable food production for long term outer space residency.
To meet these future challenges, NASA scientists have come together with researchers from the agriculture department at the University of Arizona to develop an inflatable greenhouse prototype that can be used to grow vegetables in deep space.
The prototype is designed to sustain astronauts on a continuous vegetarian diet in distant locations, such as the moon or on Mars. Aboard the international space station, NASA scientists have long been gaining experience in growing crops in space, yet the new 18 X 7 ft deployable greenhouse can also be used for air revitalization, water recycling or waste recycling.
The idea is for carbon dioxide exhaled by the astronauts to be introduced into the Martian/ lunar greenhouse, which is then used by the plants to photosynthesize and generate oxygen. The whole process is called a bioregenerative life support system.
Dr. Gene Giacomelli, director of the controlled environment agriculture centre at the University of Arizona explains simply that “we’re mimicking what the plants would have if they were on earth, and using these processes for life support. The entire system of the lunar greenhouse does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on earth.”
The hydroponic plant growth chamber can use both natural or artificial LED lighting to grow the plants, depending on the location where it is needed. The greenhouse opens up the possibility of a more autonomous approach to long-term exploration on the moon, Mars, and out into further corners of the universe.