This is why researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida have turned themselves into space farmers-without leaving Earth.
During a recent visit to Kennedy Space Center to view the SpaceX launch to the ISS, I stopped by NASA’s labs to see how researchers are continuing to develop techniques to farm in microgravity.
A prototype of the APH, which looks like a big, high-tech microwave, arrived at Kennedy last November and is basically the equivalent of MIT’s food computer, but especially designed for the space requirements of the ISS. Inside the habitat, a number of Arabidopsis, a type of flowering plant related to cabbage, were growing under an array of LED lights.
According to Onate, one of the main goals of APH research on the space station is to recover some of the plants grown in space, bring them down to Earth, use their seeds to grow plants at Kennedy, and then ship seeds from those plants to the space station to see if they’re still viable after the transition between terrestrial and microgravity environments.
My final stop was to a small, unremarkable room with a metal work table in its center and potted plants crammed into small gaps of shelving space around the walls. On earth, water will be pulled towards a plant’s roots, but in space, water will ball up and not be distributed evenly for the plant.
Even though Mars only has about a third of the gravity found on Earth, for the purposes of space farming and figuring out things like water flow, it is essentially the same.