Growing a garden in space isn’t easy—but for astronauts, having a green thumb isn’t just a talent, it’s nearly a requirement. Plants have had a short but lively history of being grown on the International Space Station. As astronauts move towards long-term independence from Earth, it’s even more imperative that they be able to meet their own nutritional needs in orbit.
“The small-scale projects performed on the space station today focus on conducting primary research associated with crop growth and performance,” says NASA in an emailed statement. “They serve as a stepping stone to the development of fully functional operational crop production systems that will accompany astronauts in the future.”
Current efforts at large-scale space crop production, however, face expensive and logistical challenges and technological gaps. A new paper, published Friday in the Journal Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, champions the need for new advances in automation, robotics, and even machine learning to get around some of these barriers.
Because pre-packaged food degrades over time, and any resources from Earth to potential lunar or Martian settlements may take too long to be delivered, it’s more feasible to invest resources into keeping flight crews healthy in real-time.
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