Efforts to colonize new planets through deep space missions such as to the moon and Mars are making sound progress.
However, beyond the advancing space technologies, there is a lurking concern on providing good food to astronauts and finding a sustainable way to it.
Obviously, nourishment coming from packets of frozen or dried food carried to space will be inadequate. The same goes for transporting ready-made food for many months or years.
NASA's Answer To Self-Reliance On Food
In upcoming missions, NASA is trying to expand those proven projects. Accordingly, NASA scientists at Kennedy Space Center in Florida are mulling a new method to support astronauts working in deep space missions with an inflatable greenhouse.
Benefits And Challenges Of Greenhouse
The advantage of the greenhouse prototype is that it is inflatable, deployable and supportive of crop production. It performs such functions as nutrition yielding, air revitalization, water recycling and waste recycling — collectively called a bioregenerative system.
Ray Wheeler, principal scientist in Kennedy Advanced Life Support Research, noted that the greenhouse project is aimed at Mars and lunar missions and is seeking to grow vegetables and plants.
"We're working with a team of scientists, engineers and small businesses at the University of Arizona to develop a closed-loop system," Wheeler explained.
The principle of the greenhouse project involves using plants to ward off carbon dioxide and generating food and oxygen.
Replicating The Process Of Earth In Outer Space
In other words, the greenhouse project's "bioregenerative life support system" is trying to replicate the environment of Earth for growing plants beyond the planet.
Here, the carbon dioxide comes from what is exhaled by astronauts, which the greenhouse promptly uses to release oxygen.
Also, oxygenated water will be pumped through the root zone of plants. The water could be brought from Earth, or NASA will be sourcing it from indigenous sources.
Sun Light vs. LED Light
As for the light being used in the greenhouse for photosynthesis, Martian or moon settlers have to use LED lights or tap solar light by tapping fiber optic bundles. Both light sources have been found successful during tests in an 18x8-foot prototype.
Going forward, the greenhouses of higher dimensions will be required in housing different plants and meeting new capacity. More computer simulations are underway to understand the control required in balancing the interior environment of these artificial greenhouses.
At the University of Arizona, tests are also progressing in choosing plants, seeds and other materials for making the greenhouse work on the moon or Mars.
"We're mimicking what the plants would have if they were on Earth and make use of these processes for life support," said Dr. Gene Giacomelli, director of the Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona.
Goal Of In-Situ Resource Utilization
To conclude, the core of pushing the greenhouse concept is a way toward the motto of minimum cargo in space travel and optimum use of in-situ resources.
As for crops good to be grown on space, including Mars, scientists have identified too many. Mars-specific crops include tomato, leek, radish, rye, quinoa, potato, and chives.