Growing Plants in Space

Updated: Feb 22

When the world is no longer a safe place to live, we might need to move to space, and we’ll need to produce our own food

Plants, the core basis for life on earth. To explore how plants are growing from a tiny seed into an adult plant is more exciting to know. The growth process of plants simply depends on the availability of sufficient nutrients, water, light, and optimum temperature.

Basically, plants absorb nutrients and water from the soil through roots. Light energy is received from the sun as a photon (particle of light) and this light helps to synthesize carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates that fuel plant metabolism. Plants purify the air by taking carbon dioxide and release oxygen which is very important to recycle the air supplies into the spacecraft.

Growing plants in space are important due to the shortage of storage food for astronauts to survive for a long time. Although space has less gravity and atmosphere compared to Earth, the traditional growing system of plants with soil as a medium won’t work on space due to the particle floating in the zero-gravity and the possibility of contamination, therefore growing plants in space will be very challenging.

NASA has been working to resolve this issue for a long time by experimenting with plants to grow in space conditions by using hydroponics (the method which combines artificial light and nutrient-rich solutions). In this way, plants can be grown without soil by using nutrient-rich solutions of different growing mediums by providing oxygen and lights under a controlled environment. The concentration of the nutrient solution depends on the variant of plants, and it has to be checked regularly. The adjustment depends on the types of plants because some species might need one element more than others. The amount of light in hydroponic depends on the kind of plants because each species needs different amounts for their growth.

Photo: Arabidopsis plants under red and green light by light-emitting diodes (LED) in the growth chamber

Scientists are trying to adjust and analyze the effect of different types of light on plants to determine which one is the best for specific plant species. The scientists at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center have been researching how to grow plants in space conditions and trying to adjust that microgravity environment. They have grown vegetables successfully at the international space station. In 1990, NASA grew bean seedling in zero gravity in a space station. In addition, scientists are trying to implement this technique on mars for future farming to build sustainable agriculture in space.

The earth is threatened by global warming, a catastrophe which leads humankind to think about finding another place to live. So, in the near future, if we want a safe place for the future, we might need to consider other planets such as Mars. In that case, hydroponic is a primary source to produce our own food and the possibility of considering this as future farming on Mars doesn’t hurt, either.

*Author: Sanzida Akhter Anee ( Horticulturist and Ecologist- Co-founder of AgriBioTechX)

*Source Images: Pinterest, NASA /Courtesy of Mike Kiev /John F. Kennedy Space Center

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