Washington: The NASA Experiment in the Columbus Module of Europe is the latest in a study of growing plants in microgravity.
With plans for a visit to the moon and Mars, future astronauts will need regular, fresh food as they undertake these tasks far from home. In addition to providing much-needed vitamins and minerals, plants that grow in space contribute to sustainability and provide a homey touch for exploration.
Plants grown under the International Space Station’s microgravity conditions have enabled researchers to optimize this method: European research has shown that plants respond well to red and blue light, giving the Columbus module a disco feel.
Since the plants do not have the gravity to root the soil, the seeds are planted in ‘pillows’ which help to distribute fertilizer and water evenly to the roots.
Radish was chosen because it is a model plant; They have a short cultivation period and are genetically similar to the most frequently studied plant in the space called Arabidopsis. Radish is also edible and nutritious, this batch is now ready for harvest any day. Samples are sent to Earth for study.
Advanced plant habitat is a self-contained growth room that requires the intervention of astronauts. It has LED lights, porous clay, over 180 sensors and cameras controlled by researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. From there, the growth of the plants is monitored and the conditions necessary to better distribute water and fertilizer and control the humidity and temperature levels are adjusted.
Next to the station is the ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet Mission Alpha. Scheduled to arrive in the Spring of 2021, Thomas will probably try another batch of space-grown greens.