NASA is growing Plants in Space – Can we now live outside Earth?

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A concept image by Nasa.gov

NASA is full of surprises and wonders of Science, failing never in amusing us with their cool discoveries. If the recent big news regarding the mission of NASA ‘touching the Sun’ didn’t shock you, wait till you hear about another great project undertaken by our space guys; ‘The Advanced Plant Habitat’ which is about growing food in space.

NASA has been working since past few years to create and sustain an environment for plants to live and grow in space. Their newly launched Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) system is a part of the mission of ‘Space Garden’- a green place inside International Space Station.

Plants like Lettuce, Radishes and Peas have already been grown by a ‘Veggie plant growth’ – another system positioned inside ISS, but they aren’t approved as edible yet since the experiments and research is still underway. Now with the addition of an advanced plant habitat system APH, the procedure will be more progressive.

Created by Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) ORBITEC team and NASA engineers, APH is a closed-loop system consisting of an environmentally controlled growth chamber which can accommodate plants in Space. The red, green and blue LED lights as well as broad spectrum white LED lights fill the absence of sunlight for the plants growing inside APH.

Photo Credit: Jim Siegel / SpaceFlight Inside

“The chambers are designed to support commercial and fundamental plant research or other bioscience research onboard the International Space Station (ISS) for at least one year of continuous operation without maintenance” – Nasa.gov

Bryan Onate, NASA’s APH project manager told SpaceFlight Insider, “A big difference in this system, compared to Veggie, is that it requires minimal crew involvement to install the science, add water, and perform other maintenance activities. We are learning how plants grow in space and what levels of commodities, such as light and water, are required so we can maximize our growth with the least resources.”

The motivation behind launching APH and other space-plants projects was to extend the duration of space trips to facilitate deep space exploration. The astronauts won’t have to worry about running out of supplies when they can grow their own fresh food on the way. In chambers or ‘Space Garden’ inside ISS, many plants are growing in microgravity, but since they are still a part of a research and experiments, they can’t be served in the menu for now.

Mizuna lettuce growing aboard the International Space Station before being harvested and frozen for return to Earth. Image credit: NASA

Scientists are conducting various experiments to check if the space-grown plants are safe to eat or not, since they’re not born natural and are still a product of science, we can’t totally trust on them. The experiment, known as Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit — Plants, Protocols, Procedures and Requirements — uses a very simple chamber similar to a greenhouse. Water and light levels are controlled automatically.

The experiment has four major objectives: to find out if the produce grown in space can be consumed safely; what types of microorganisms might grow on the plants and what can be done to reduce the threat of microorganisms in the hardware prior to launch; what can be done to clean or sanitize the produce after it has been harvested; and how to optimize production compared to the resources required to grow it.

Looks like it is soon going to be out on news that astronauts in ISS have taken their first bite off the space-grown plants and now humans can grow edible plants outside planet Earth.

Now, if we think about Future, around 500 years ahead from now, this whole space-plants mission can contribute in the survival of humanity in case we lose our planet Earth. As Professor Stephen Hawking warned that that mankind will not survive another millennia unless it makes a home beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

As reported by Telegraph, Professor Hawking said while addressing to audience at Oxford Union Society, that most recent advances in cosmology have been achieved from space where there are uninterrupted views of our Universe, but we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity.

“I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space, and I have been getting my training in early.” He added.

NASA’s space-food project, Stephen Hawking’s daunting statement and the current condition of our planet Earth, reminds me of a famous Netflix sci-fi show ‘The 100’ which shows the world after post nuclear apocalypse and how humans were forced to leave Earth and live in space for their survival inside an Interstellar ark or Generation ship, and when they returned to their planet after centuries, things were not the same and natural as before.

Image source: mnn.com

We hope that what they show in ‘the 100’ and other such sci-fi shows about the ‘end of the world’ remain a part of the fiction only, as we sure don’t want to leave our dear planet and live or survive outside. To make sure this never happens, Humanity needs to keep its desire for technological advancements in check and balanced, so that we don’t end up destroying ourselves.

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