US: three local men hope to see their work on ISS

Three South Florida men with diverse backgrounds — and all volunteers at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden — have teamed together in a unique collaboration to design a plant-growing method that they hope will someday be found on the International Space Station (ISS).

It’s all part of the nationwide Growing Beyond Earth Maker Challenge that calls for contestants in three-team categories — High School, College, and Professional — to submit designs for growing plants in space. Six finalists remain out of the 60 original submissions in year two of the three-year contest.

“We have been involved in this program with NASA for years, after conversations about the challenge of growing plants in space,” Lewis said. “Year One was about how to make the best use of limited growing volume on a spacecraft. This year is about automation. Can you set it and forget it? Next year will be about robotic planting and harvesting. We’re looking forward to seeing what you [contestants] come up with.”

So, in May, Hahn met with the other two Fairchild volunteers who responded to an email he sent — Coconut Grove’s Nic Brunk, a molecular biologist (and crew coach for the Miami Beach Rowing Club), and Shenandoah’s Allen Diehl, a photographer with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Their goal is to grow high-density vegetables (with a high Vitamin K benefit) in a limited amount of space (a 50 cm cubic growing environment) using an autonomous system that won’t require any further human interaction (after initial seed planting) over a 30-day period. Together, the three South Florida “scientists” have come up with an eye-catching design (with the limited constraints on size per NASA’s specs) that, well, looks like something from outer space. It has three levels (heights) for the different phases of growth of the red romaine lettuce most competitors are using.

“This competition will provide NASA with valuable input and data, which will someday enable those on the International Space Station as well as Moon and Mars missions with a means of complementing their diet while giving them something live and green to look at in a sterile environment,” Hahn said. “It will be great to know that our team had something to do with that.”

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