Space Farming: The Final Frontier


Vegetable Production System (NASA)

What do you do next when you’ve successfully screwed up the Earth? Screw up Space too! Agricultural science is approaching its next frontier reports Modern Farmer:

Last year, an astronaut named Don Pettit began an unusual writing project on NASA’s website. Called “Diary of a Space Zucchini,” the blog took the perspective of an actual zucchini plant on the International Space Station (ISS). Entries were insightful and strange, poignant and poetic.

“I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me,” wrote Pettit in the now-defunct blog. “I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini — and I am in space.”

An unorthodox use of our tax dollars, but before you snicker, consider this: That little plant could be the key to our future. If — as some doomsday scientists predict — we will eventually exhaust the Earth’s livability, space farming will prove vital to the survival of our species. Around the world, governments and private companies are doing research on how we are going to grow food on space stations, in spaceships, even on Mars. The Mars Society is testing a greenhouse in a remote corner of Utah, researchers at the University of Gelph in Ontario are looking at long-term crops like soybeans and barley and Purdue University scientists are marshaling vertical garden design for space conditions. Perhaps most importantly, though, later this year NASA will be producing its own food in orbit for the first time ever.

And if space farming still seems like a pipe dream, the zucchini also served a more tangible purpose. It kept Pettit and his crewmates sane.

You Can Eat It, Too

Growing food in space helps solve one of the biggest issues in space travel: the price of eating. It costs roughly $10,000 a pound to send food to the ISS, according to Howard Levine, project scientist for NASA’s International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing Directorate. There’s a premium on densely caloric foods with long shelf lives. Supply shuttles carry such limited fresh produce that Gioia Massa, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, says astronauts devour it almost immediately.

Levine and Massa are part of the team developing the Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program, set to hit the ISS later this year. This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs, filled with a material akin to kitty litter, functioning as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. The burgundy-hued lettuce (NASA favors the “Outredgeous” strain) will be grown under bright-pink LED lights, ready to harvest after just 28 days…

[continues at Modern Farmer]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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7 Comments on "Space Farming: The Final Frontier"

  1. Ted Heistman | Sep 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm |

    I think we should fuck up space, by terraforming it. I think doing that will allow us to reddem ourselves a bit.

    • Joel Tattooing | Sep 12, 2013 at 3:11 am |

      Yep if biological diversity is a good thing then even a monoculture can be seen as “better” than just rock and dust. One of the few hopeful fantasies I have of the future and purpose of our species is that we are
      agents of change in the Gaian organism preparing her for procreation,
      it would be nice if there is some teleological sense to our fucking
      this planet up.

      • Joel Tattooing | Sep 12, 2013 at 3:18 am |

        I read yesterday of how E-Coli in a substrate of different sugars will first choose the sugar that can drive the fastest and strongest growth and then pause and go on with a slower growth process on the sugar that is left when the high growth sugar is gone. It is called double growth I think. Maybe we are acting like bacteria, if we use the rest of our high energy to develop technology that can grow really slowly on renewable energy, this could be a billion year project to populate space with life. If this is the case then our next phase will be a pause of growth, followed by a slow new kind of growth. I’m being a bit of a romantic here I suppose. The last thing that leaves us is hope I guess 😛

        • Ted Heistman | Sep 12, 2013 at 5:57 am |

          Yeah, I am with you on that. I also think permaculture and reforestation is all part of that second growth phase.

          • Joel Tattooing | Sep 12, 2013 at 10:10 am |

            For sure, me and a friend just bought 30 acres here in Sweden to establish a forest garden on and of course grow annuals and have some animals, polyculture all the way. We have around 10 acres of woodland that we will let grow wild to, just take out the spruce when it tries to colonise from the spruce plantations around us. It’s not a big surface but it feels really meaningful.

          • Ted Heistman | Sep 12, 2013 at 5:13 pm |

            That sounds awesome! I have been working all summer as an organic gardener raising chickens and vegetables and fruits.

  2. Microhero | Sep 12, 2013 at 5:20 am |

    It won’t be long before we have asteroid huggers floating about trying to prevent the destruction of beautiful sterile land by the exploitative industry of space tomatoes, space pastures and free range space cows.

    There’s a whole lot of space out in Space…

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