Gardening in Space: Local Food for Astronauts?

Space cuisine has influenced Earth food since the days of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. Today’s astronauts enjoy a much more varied menu than ever before; cosmic cuisine includes chef-made meals that are a huge improvement over the tubes of applesauce and dehydrated pot roast of early Moon missions. Researchers are now looking for ways to support long-term space travel by growing fresh crops in orbit. How can advancements in cosmic gardening help city-dwellers get the fresh, local food that more and more people are demanding?

Over the years, NASA has worked to develop nutritious foods with minimal prep time that will keep astronauts fed during interplanetary travel. Growing crops in space has long been a point of interest for researchers looking to support astronaut crews on years-long Mars missions that involve establishing colonies without sending resupply vehicles. Most recently, there was an open call for participants to put “menu fatigue” to the test in a Mars Analogue Mission; six would-be astronauts will simulate a planetary mission on a lava flow in Hawaii, complete with space suits, to compare crew-cooked versus prepackaged foods.

What on Earth does this have to do with the local food movement here on Earth? Gourmetmagazine highlights the common thread of controlled environments that make effective use of resources. Technologies like hydroponic growth chambers, energy-efficient LED light systems, methods of recycling waste heat and collapsible greenhouses could help cities meet their own food needs rather than relying on fossil fuel transport from distant field growers.

Closed-loop systems are nothing new to urban farmers and permaculture enthusiasts, but the influence of space technology on commercial products can help drive the development of alternatives to the resource-guzzling farm practices that we know. By the time space farms leave R&D, self-contained greenhouses and single family hydroponics kits could be as common as barbecues and garden hoses.

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image: Graham Higgins