Plant-based food production and life support systems will be important for future long-term missions in space and exploration of the Universe.
Enjoy your locally produced food, air and water
Astronauts have visited the Moon and are currently living onboard the
International Space Station (ISS). Every day, each crew member requires around 30 kg of water, food and air, making them heavily
dependent on regular supplies. For longer space journeys, life support systems that can produce food and recycle oxygen and water will be needed.
Growing plants in space opens up new possibilities for long-term missions, and may in the future reduce the burden of bringing or shuttling provisions. Advanced plant cultivation systems may provide astronauts with space-grown food, and closed regenerative life support system may recycle water, nutrients, air and waste in a viable ecosystem. The key to such development is plant research in space.
On Earth, stems grow upwards and roots grow downwards. In space, one important guidance-system for plants, gravity, does not exist. How does this affect plant growth? How can we use this knowledge towards manned missions to Mars or even towards more sustainable production on Earth? Research in space has typically been dominated by model plants such as
Arabidopsis. Experiments carried out on the ISS have shown that plants feel gravity at a cellular level, and can react to very low gravity levels. Other experiments have illustrated how plants react to different colors of the light, as experiments on ISS can be conducted without the effects of gravity masking other variables such as light conditions.
Moving beyond low Earth orbit and the International Space Station, major space organizations such as ESA and NASA look towards the Moon and Mars. According to ESA, the next giant leap could be an international collaboration in the form of a Moon village - a permanent lunar base for science, business, tourism or even mining. NASA is developing capabilities to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, using the Orion spacecraft.