As NASA plans missions to the moon and Mars, a key factor is figuring out how to feed crew members during their weeks, months, and even years in space.
Astronauts on the International Space Station primarily eat prepackaged food, which requires regular resupply and can degrade in quality and nutrition. Researchers are exploring the idea of crews growing some of their food during a mission, testing various crops and equipment to figure out how to do this without a lot of extra hardware or power.
Picking the right plants
The first step in this research is identifying which plants to test. NASA started a project in 2015 with the Fairchild Botanical Garden in Miami called "Growing Beyond Earth." The program has recruited hundreds of middle and high school science classes across the U.S. to grow different seeds in a habitat similar to one on the space station. Seeds that grow well in the classrooms are then tested in a chamber at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Ones that do well there are sent to the station to test how they grow in microgravity.
Gardens in space
NASA also has tested facilities to host future microgravity gardens. One is the Vegetable Production System, or Veggie, a simple, low-power chamber that can hold six plants. Seeds are grown in small fabric 'pillows' that crew members look after and water by hand, similar to caring for a window garden on Earth.
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