Plants in space: food for astronauts

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Plants in space: food for astronauts

Gepubliceerd op
13 mei 2015

If we want to continue exploring space, we need to be able to produce food for the astronauts during the voyage. To do this, we must develop what are referred to as bio -generative life support systems, particularly for growing plants. Plants fulfil various functions during a space voyage. They produce oxygen, reduce the CO2 concentration, recycle water, produce food and have a positive effect on the mental wellbeing of the crew.

Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture is taking part in the EU Evolution & Design of Environmentally‐closed Nutrition-Sources (EDEN ISS) project, which focuses on sustainable food production during space travel. As part of this project, Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture is responsible for selecting the varieties and overseeing their growth in confined spaces at the International Space Station (ISS). Producing fresh, nutritious, tasty food for the astronauts is not the only objective; the plants must also contribute to their mental wellbeing.

Healthy vegetables

First of all, suitable crops will have to be selected and cultivation protocols will be developed with the optimal light recipe (spectrum, photoperiod), temperature and nutrition for the growth of healthy vegetables.

Columbus

The input/output constraints of the Columbus module must be taken into account, in terms of energy, heat, mass (water, carbon dioxide and oxygen) and the requirements of semi-automated production. Following that, a mobile test laboratory will be placed at the Neumayer III Antarctic station, where a group of scientists will live and work for a year.

Mission to Mars

Mankind’s first mission to Mars is tentatively set for 2030, and scientists and engineers are busy working out the details of the unprecedented trip. One big issue revolves around the Mars-bound astronauts’ diet - nutritionists believe that pre-packaged food will not be enough, so they are working on developing a space-safe kitchen garden. Scientists have isolated the perfect crops to grow in space - lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, spring onions, radishes, peppers, strawberries, herbs and cabbage.  Good thing they’ve got 19 years to perfect this otherworldly full systems task.