Space Farming: Growing Vegetables 230 Miles Above the Earth


Thu, Sep 12th, 2013 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

On Modern Farmer, a very fascinating look at how NASA is experimenting with growing fresh vegetables out in space. Not quite the Enterprise's ten-forward, but figuring this out could help us survive when we deplete the earth.

Growing food in space helps solve one of the biggest issues in space travel: the price of eating. It costs roughly $10,000 a pound to send food to the ISS, according to Howard Levine, project scientist for NASA's International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing Directorate. There's a premium on densely caloric foods with long shelf lives. Supply shuttles carry such limited fresh produce that Gioia Massa, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, says astronauts devour it almost immediately.

Levine and Massa are part of the team developing the Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program, set to hit the ISS later this year. This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs, filled with a material akin to kitty litter, functioning as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. The burgundy-hued lettuce (NASA favors the "Outredgeous" strain) will be grown under bright-pink LED lights, ready to harvest after just 28 days.

NASA has a long history of testing plant growth in space, but the goals have been largely academic. Experiments have included figuring out the effects of zero-gravity on plant growth, testing quick-grow sprouts on shuttle missions and assessing the viability of different kinds of artificial light. But VEGGIE is NASA's first attempt to grow produce that could actually sustain space travelers.



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