The ability to grow food in space is a requirement for the success of long-term and deep space missions.

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Beginning in December, NASA is set to start an experiment onboard the International Space Station that involves growing food.

The first experiment is rather small. Astronauts on the ISS will attempt to grow six lettuce romaine plans with LED lights and special soil. It’s estimated that the produce will be ready for consumption within a month.

NASA has some fairly ambitious plans for the next three decades: a year-long trip to an asteroid, a return to the Moon and a push to Mars.

All of these missions will require extended stays in space, and the ability to provide astronauts with the necessities of life like food, water and oxygen. NASA’s scientists have already gotten around the water and oxygen parts of the equation. Hyper-efficient water recovery systems take grey water from showers, water vapor in the air, as well as waste water from toilets and turn it into potable water. The oxygen supply on-board the spacecraft is almost indefinite, as lethal carbon dioxide can be scrubbed from the air allowing air to be recycled, and new oxygen can be generated via electrolysis.

The holdout is food. It’s mighty expensive to send up into space — on the order of $10,000 per pound. Each person needs to eat approximately two pounds per day, which means the required food supply for a multi-year trip (the time it would take to get to Mars) is enormous — too much for one spacecraft to hold. For any long-term space mission to work, a spacecraft will have to be self sustaining, or at least have the ability to augment  the food supply they bring with them.

If this experiment is successful, the next crop that will attempt to be grown is soybeans which are heavy in protein and can be processed into different foods. It seems like a small step, but its a required step for any long term space mission.

Via: The Verge

Source: Modern Farmer