Food is one of the foremost concerns when one talks about space travel. Astronauts have to carry frozen-dried food which takes a large portion of the weight of their spaceship. Plant and animal foods that appear to be abundant on Earth are nowhere to be found in space. To solve this issue, NASA is working on farming in space, growing plants without the life-favouring conditions of the Earth. In the latest development, the US space agency has almost figured out the most effective way to supply water and air to the growing plants.
NASA Glenn’s Plant Water Management (PWM) project is growing plants on the International Space Station (ISS), and researching the feasibility of farming beyond earth. “In the past, NASA has shown that plant growth in space is feasible as a food source,” said Tyler Hatch, project scientist of the PWM program in a news release by NASA.
However, growing food in space is not so easy. According to Tyler, it is only possible from a gardening perspective as of now. One of the key concerns is the absence of gravity which causes the roots of the plants to grow differently than they grow on the Earth. In this case, making crucial supplies reach the plant’s body becomes a challenge.
Hatch’s team worked on two main methods to water plants without the Earth’s atmosphere. The first method was traditional in which soil was used and water was poured into the soil.
The second method, however, does not use soil at all. The plants sit entirely in water without the presence of soil. This method is also known as hydroponics. The nutrients required by the plant, in this water-based-agriculture method, is dissolved into the liquid in which the plant is sitting.
The experiment, conducted on the International Space Station by astronauts, used artificial simulations of plants for the sake of shelf-life. During the experiment, fruit punch containing sugar and other nutrients was provided to plants, which could be seen, because of its colour, moving through the simulated plant’s body.