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Space Farming! NASA Develops Inflatable Lunar/Mars Greenhouse To Feed Space Explorers

First Posted: Apr 26, 2017 06:00 AM EDT
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NASA has developed inflatable greenhouses for use in manned missions to the Moon and Mars to help sustain astronauts working in deep space. While the American space agency has already met success with growing plants on the International Space Station (ISS), the Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse has been designed with the goal of making a greenhouse system work on the lunar and Martian surfaces.

According to New York Post, the prototypes are meant to be deployable on demand and will use water found on the Moon/Red Planet to grow crops. The plants will also consume the carbon dioxide produced by astronauts on manned missions. In addition, the greenhouses will play a significant role in water recycling and waste disposal, thereby becoming a bioregenerative life support system.

The Prototype Lunar Greenhouse is being tested by researchers at the University of Arizona, Tucson, to determine what plants, seeds or other materials should be carried along to make the greenhouse system a success on the Moon or Mars. Understanding what to carry to the site and what to gather there will be important for living on extraterrestrial worlds.

“We are mimicking what the plants would have if they were on Earth and make use of these processes for life support,” Dr. Gene Giacomelli from the University of Arizona said, according to NASA. “The entire system of the lunar greenhouse does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on Earth.”

The prototypes are cylindrical structures that measure 18 feet in length and are more than 8 feet in diameter. To protect the plants from space radiation, the greenhouse units would most probably be buried below the surface soil on the Moon or Mars. Therefore, the plants will require specialized lighting.

At present, electric LED lighting is being used to grow plants on the space station, which could be a viable option for the prototype units. The researchers are also testing hybrids with both natural and artificial lighting. Furthermore, sunlight could also be captured with light concentrators that track the Sun and then channelize the light to the greenhouse units with fiber optic bundles. The research team has also pointed that the greenhouse units will provide an autonomous approach to facilitate long-term exploration on the Moon, Mars and even beyond.

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