Organic-layered asteroids could bear fruit– or wheat, or other crops– for future space exploration, University of North Dakota researchers say

Farming on asteroids: Science future, not science fiction

Newswise — If you want to learn how to farm successfully and grow crops, here’s a novel place to turn to: The UND Department of Space Studies. Then again, this advice might be a tad limited, given that not many are aspiring to grow crops on asteroids millions of miles from Earth.

But UND Assistant Professor of Space Studies Sherry Fieber-Beyer is. And in fact, she’s one of the first in her field who’s seriously looking into such an idea.

“If our goal is to establish a long-term presence in space, well, humans can’t do that unless we have food,” said Fieber-Beyer, a planetary scientist.

It turns out that among the vast combinations of rocky and metallic celestial bodies floating in our solar system, a number of them have a top soil – commonly referred to as regolith – that is highly organic. They’re classified as C-type asteroids.

So, in the greenhouse of UND’s Biology Department, a couple of otherwise normal-looking pots are the pilot testbeds of a far-off-in-the-future concept for space exploration.

Fieber-Beyer and Steven Russell, a Space Studies graduate research assistant, are studying whether lettuce, radishes and peppers are able to grow in a soil comprised of varying mixes of peat moss and simulated asteroid regolith, an exact mineral copy of samples taken from organic-layered C-type asteroids.

“It’s a pie-in-the-sky kind of idea,” remarked Fieber-Beyer, when asked about the practical application of farming asteroids. “But the end vision is to create pit stops for food throughout space.

“I don’t know of anybody else who’s growing plants in asteroid simulant at this moment, but I’m sure it will be an emerging field, based on calls for similar projects coming from NASA. And people are excited to see what happens through this experiment.”

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