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US: Alabama urban farm startup flying on the ISSS

Space enthusiasts (including all you solar eclipse watchers!) will want to keep an eye on one Alabama startup that is currently orbiting around Earth sixteen times a day on the International Space Station (ISS).

Birmingham-based Shipshape Urban Farms, an AgTech startup creating localized food networks with modular hydroponic farms, blasted off with NASA last month from its launchpad in Florida to run agricultural experiments on the ISS. Over the next several weeks, close to 15,000 of Shipshape's lettuce and tomato seeds will be in a special container outside of the ISS in hopes of "identifying new species based on genetic mutations" that could help shape future agricultural efforts, said Shipshape's CEO Dale Speetjens.

The launch is an important step forward in the startup's MISSIE (Microgravity Investigation of Seedling Systems in Extraterrestrial Environments) experiment. At first glance, space might not seem like the most obvious testing ground for agriculture startups. But "space farming" has massive implications for the future of space travel and for our future food consumption back down here on Earth. Ultimately, going up into space is about discovering seeds that could grow better in hydroponic systems. Finding new seed varieties can help increase the efficiency of crop yields in hydroponic systems at a time when the Earth is witnessing a massive reduction in available agricultural land.

Speetjens believes the "big goal" down the road would be to "one day in the future grow crops up in space and then essentially drop them down to Earth and into disaster areas." But it can also play an important role in ensuring the growing number of space missions – and eventually space settlements – have a sustainable way to grow food while in orbit.


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