A plant growth chamber designed to make gardens thrive in weightlessness.
NASA scientists believe they may have found a solution to how to grow vegetables in space. It could bring an end to astronauts on the space station subsisting largely on a diet of pre-packaged dehydrated food.
Until now the absence of gravity, rainfall and a conventional light cycle meant that horticulture was impossible.
Weightlessness made watering plants impractical and without a conventional up and down, roots sprang in all sorts of directions.
If shoots emerged there was no sun. In short the space station is a gardener’s nightmare.
The solution appears to be a “veggie flight pillow” – a tailored environment which should make it possible for astronauts to grow their own food.
“We call it ‘Veggie’,” said Gioia Massa of the Kennedy Space Center.
“It’s a plant growth chamber designed to make gardens thrive in weightlessness.” A batch of these plant pillows were included on the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship which went up to the International Space Station last month.
The idea is simple. The veggie pillows are bags of space dirt with slow-release fertiliser.
Wicks are inserted into the soil, acting both as a stake and drawing in water and preventing it from floating away.
Light is provided by LED lamps shining overhead which orient the seeds and embryonic plant, with the roots growing “down” into the soil and the shoots being attracted upwards towards the light.
The veggie pillows also expand as the plants grow. With one placed on top of another, they resemble a bellows.
“Our first crop will be a variety of lettuce called ‘Outredgeous,’” said Dr Massa. “It is delicious.” But astronauts will not be allowed to savour the first crop, Dr Massa explained.
“First, we have to bring the lettuce home for analysis. Is it safe to eat?
“Are there any bacteria growing on the leaves? “These are some of the questions we’ll be looking at. If everything checks out, future crops may be eaten.”
Photo credit: Modern Farmer