Getting to Mars may happen only if we can grow food in space

phys.org | 2/19/2019 | Staff
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Decades after the last human set foot on the moon, NASA is contemplating setting up a permanent base there or sending astronauts to Mars. Accomplishing those goals, however, will require a few green thumbs.

The cost to send a pound of anything into low Earth orbit is estimated at about $10,000, and much more than that beyond. That makes sending food to feed astronauts for months extremely expensive. However, if they could grow their own food and use closed systems to recycle water and oxygen, trips to the moon and Mars would become much more feasible.

Purdue - Cary - Mitchell - Years - Efforts

That's where Purdue's Cary Mitchell comes in. For more than 40 years, he has led efforts to improve human ability to grow food in space – from improving lighting for crops to testing the ability to grow leafy greens, fruits and vegetables that will keep astronauts nourished and satisfied on their long trips.

Mitchell began his career at Purdue interested in the effects of mechanical stresses on plant growth. He noticed that shaking a tomato plant caused it to dwarf, and touching the near side of a plant's stem caused it to grow toward him. NASA invited him to speak at a symposium in the 1970s and eventually introduced him to the agency's new space biology program, which funded his research for an extended period.

Questions - Plants - Space - Example - Gravity

"We were looking at very basic questions back then. We wanted to know how plants would orient in space, for example. Without gravity, how would roots know to grow down and shoots up?" said Mitchell, a professor of horticulture. "Since then, we've spent a lot of time working on how to light plants in space and on particular varieties of plants that are feasible to grow there."

Soon, Mitchell became involved in more projects through NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems (CELSS) program, which...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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