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Astronauts Could Start Farming In Space To Feed Themselves
September 12, 2013
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Astronaut Aki Hoshide outside the International Space Station September 5, 2012; basil plants at an indoor vertical farm in Bedford Park, Illinois in March, 2013 (Photos: Getty/AP)

Eating your veggies is always a healthy move, whether you're living on the Earth or above it. But fresh-grown vegetables are hard to come by outside of our planet's atmosphere.

That's about to change. NASA is working on a program to grow vegetables in space, Modern Farmer reports. It's called the Vegetable Production System program, and it's expected to hit the International Space Station later this year.

There being fields of soil in space, the program will rely on unconventional agricultural methods: a series of Kevlar pillow-packs filled with a kitty litter-like substance will serve as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. Instead of sunlight, they'll grow under pink LED lights, and they should be ready to eat after 28 days.

This isn't the first time NASA has experimented with growing plants in space, but the agency has never tried to grow produce that could actually be eaten by astronauts before. The ultimate goal is to create what Modern Farmer calls "a regenerative growth system," whereby food could be grown continuously on the space station or on spaceships deployed on longer missions — if humans ever try to make it to Mars, they'll need food to eat along the way, some of which could be farmed on board.

There are also financial reasons to look at growing edible crops in space: each food delivery to the ISS costs about $10,000 per pound, and the fresh produce in those deliveries gets eaten almost immediately upon arrival.

Psychology is another part of the farming experiment: for space travellers who are in a closed craft for months on end, the "horticultural therapy" of growing plants may help stave off depression and anxiety.

NASA isn't the only group investigating the possibilities of farming in space. Among other ongoing projects, researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario are looking into growing long-term crops like soybeans and barley, and Dr. Cary Mitchell at Purdue University is working on vertical farming initiatives on Earth that could be used in space as well.

For a look at some of the challenges that space farmers face, including accounting for a lack of gravity, check out this post on HowStuffWorks.

Via Daily Mail

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