Lettuce on the moon might sound like a far reach, but that’s the eventual plan. Germany’s Aerospace Centre DLR just announced this week that their experimental Antarctic greenhouse had harvested its first crops. The harvest reaped 8 pounds of greens, 18 cucumbers and 70 radishes. Is growing lettuce on Mars in our future?
A Greenhouse in Antarctica
The Antarctica project began in January and there may be more to come in the future. In addition to the recent harvest, scientists have also planted various herbs, peppers and strawberries. By next month, an expected 10 pounds of produce per week are expected.
Earth’s Most Inhospitable Environment
It’s quite a task to grow food in one of Earth’s most inhospitable environs. This experimental greenhouse (part of the EDEN ISS project), will provide insight into how to grow fruits and vegetables in space.
Farming in Space
Long term space voyages (like a trip to Mars), will require renewable food sources. In addition, this is a necessity for any colonies built there. Trying to figure out how to grow food in the environment of a spaceship is necessary for future advances in space travel.
Impacts on Earth
These trials may have their impacts also right here on Earth. At the moment, food production right here isn’t that stable. It is very likely that our agriculture will separate more and more from land because of climate change and population growth. Cultivating crops in a contained environment could prove very valuable.
The crew of the International Space Station are also conducting similar farming experiments, reported NASA last month. They have tried harvesting greens, and cabbage. The Antartic projects aim is to produce a larger variety of fruits and vegetables that may one day be grown on the Moon or Mars.
Mobile Test Facility
A Mobile Test Facility which sits on stilts on top of the ground is where The Antarctic experiment is taking place.
The building looks like a long and thin trailer on legs. Inside it houses a cultivation room with a series of windowbox-shaped growing cabinets. The produce farmed here will augment the diets of the 10-person winter crew of Neumayer Station III (a German Antarctic research station). One scientist among the crew is specifically attached to the EDEN-ISS project. There is a special airlock which he uses to enter and leave the standalone building.
The greenhouse is designed to be totally independent of its environment, just like it would have to on the ISS or the Moon. A liquid nutrient solution is used to nourish the plants, instead of soil. Specially designed LED’s are used to replace natural sunlight. The greenhouse air is also being adapted as much as possible to meet the needs of the plants. Keeping the air clear of bacteria and mould is important and special filters are used. Here growing plants does not require the use of insecticides or pesticides.
A Promising Future
This recent crop showed promise for the future. Despite a few challenges along the way, there is hope. The station’s crew also have the pleasure of dining on fresh vegetables in a frigid desert.
A special team of engineers and scientists had to assemble the test facility when it arrived to Antarctica. This was done over the Christmas and New Year period. In addition to the crew of the station there seem to be many ‘locals’ that are curious. Penguins are curiously approaching the container to observe what is going on. This likely wouldn’t happen with a greenhouse on Mars.