Farmer in the SkyFor the Restaurant at the End of the Universe go here.
Is not only an excellent novel by one of my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein, but also an activity that is coming closer to an exciting and meaningful reality.
For any sustained activity in space our explorers will need nourishment to eat and oxygen to breath, we all know this and although it seems to be obvious it is also a subject that is often not given as much consideration in the news or by the general public. Space Agriculture has been the a plot element within many science fiction novels and movies or at least a major component to these stories. Some major advancements for growing technologies have arisen from the knowledge gained from investigation into this problem that have benefited farmers and gardeners here on earth.
|ZeoPro used on a golf course|
With a lot of research these scientists developed a synthetic soil loaded with a zeolite minerals that contain essential plant growth nutrients. This new technique was dubbed zeoponics.
The first usage of ZeoPro (the trademarked name for ZeoponiX, Inc Fertilizing products) was on golf courses, sports fields and greenhouses, where its slowly dissolving reservoir of nutrients increase a plant's strength and growth performance.
Link to NASA Spinoff Page
In 2008 the first wet soil experiment using martian soil was performed by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. Phoenix's robotic arm scooped up soil and dispersed it into 3 different on-board analyzers.
- An oven that baked and tested emitted gasses.
- A microscope imager
- A wet chemistry lab
On Jun 25, 2008 Phoenix performed the first wet chemistry tests and on the following day (sol 31) she returned the results that indicated salinity levels and pH levels were such that they would not cause issues with life. NASA's Goddard Space Flight center has been working on a project bio-engineering plants that may be better suited to survive on the 4th rock from the sun.
We are seeing the use of Light-emitting diode (LED) technology all around us in consumer electronic products. From flashlights that use a single small battery, and seemingly last forever to LED light bulbs that cost just pennies to light. LED lighting is the next logical step for lighting where direct solar light is not an option. Whether it be underground tunnels in the moon, with it's lack of an atmosphere and no meaningful radiation protection, or deep space where the closest star is but a pinprick of light.
Current solar-powered battery storage is not adequate. The most practical solution currently would be the use of a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (TRG). This is the same sort of power source used on the Curiosity Rover. LEDs are also extremely robust surviving shock and long periods of usage, lasting up to 50,000 hours, and they do not produce as much heat byproduct as traditional horticulture lights do.
On earth it takes roughly 50 square meters of plant life to provide both food and oxygen to support one astronaut based on Earth growth/production. In low or zero-gravity environments we do not know how well plants will produce at that scale.
Whatever the future holds agriculture will be a part of it both on earth, possibly growing algae that produce fuel for our vehicles or plants that can grow quickly. Maybe just a better tasting apple or grocery store tomatoes that not only look beautiful but actually taste as good as they look.