Space Farming: A Key Component of Human Space Flight

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-02 06:58

A zinnia flower growing in the Veggie facility aboard the International Space Station
[Photo by NASA]

The production of food through space farming is an important part of sending astronauts to the moon and to Mars. Innovations for this purpose, however, has also engendered many technological advancements on Earth.

The film The Martian touched on how important space agriculture is to astronauts. When the astronaut Mark Watney was left behind on Mars, he had to cultivate and subsist on potatoes. Using his resourcefulness and knowledge on how to fertilize Martian soil, Watney was able to grow potatoes on Mars.

Studies on Space Farming

The problem, of course, is that agriculture on Mars or the moon won't be following the same patterns as agriculture on Earth. Vital agricultural components like soil, sun, oxygen, and chemical compositions will be different. Thus, there have been a lot of thoughts and studies on agriculture in space since the 20th century.

These studies have benefited life on Earth, perhaps more than it has benefited astronauts' potential life on Mars or the moon. We have vertical farming, greenhouse LED lighting, and new techniques on growing potatoes due to these studies and innovations.

For there to be any hope of having humans live on the moon or Mars for an extended period of time, space farming has to be developed. Fortunately, different countries around the world have been studying ways to grow crops in space. A team at Canada's University of Guelph, for example, has developed controlled environment agriculture techniques. Researchers at China's Beihang University, meanwhile, developed a life support facility that can support three humans. This facility included a module that can produce air, water, and food.

International Cooperation

These innovations have borne other technologies for space farming as well. There are now diodes that can emit light for growing crops. There are also proposals on how to recycle human wastes as fertilizer. These and many other innovations have developed from research on how to provide humans with enough food for a long sojourn in space.

There are still a lot of challenges regarding the development of space farming. Most of these challenges are technical in nature, but it seems that humanity is on the right track. As mentioned above, the combined efforts of many nations led to the development of many innovations. Thus, international cooperation and the consistent commitment of institutions can bring us closer to prolonged human space flight.

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