If space truly is the final frontier, we’re going to need to figure out how to grow food there. There’s a growing number of research projects devoted to just that.
For example, by the end of this year, research initiated by German high school students will examine how high-quality vegetables respond to growing in the microgravity of space. The crops will be grown in the International Space Station, in a project funded by BASF.
“We are excited about this project and about working with forward-thinking young people who strive for groundbreaking ideas and innovation,” says Harald Rang, senior vice president of R&D at BASF. “It has been a thrilling challenge to investigate what could come next and how to achieve the ultimate goal of growing and reproducing plants on a space station.”
When plants grow on Earth, the roots use gravity to grow downward, while leaves grow towards a light source. But how will root systems grow without the aid of gravity? That’s what this study proposes to ask and answer.
And a new study from Purdue University found the optimal blend of LED lighting to grow food in space. Research from professor of horticulture Cary Mitchell found leaf lettuce grew best uder a 95-to-5 ration of red and blue LED lighting. This could lead to innovative vertical farming methods in space – and back on Earth.
“Everything on Earth is ultimately driven by sunlight and photosynthesis,” Mitchell says. “The question is how we can replicate that in space. If you have to generate your own light with limited energy resources, targeted LED lighting is your best option. We’re no longer stuck in the era of high-power lighting and large, hot, fragile lamps.”
Next, Mitchell plans to fine-tune increases and decreases to lighting based on plant growth stage to further conserve energy and optimize growth.
Visions of greenhouses on the moon or Mars may not feel like so much pie in the sky any more.