US (AZ): ‘The Martian’ movie sheds light on UA space innovation

Between the release of the movie “The Martian” next month and the news last month that astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) ate lettuce grown in space for the first time, people are very interested in space colonisation and being able to produce crops long-term in space. Here at the University of Arizona CEAC we are working with NASA on this very challenge.

The UA NASA Steckler Space Grant program has focused on a prototype Lunar [or Mars] greenhouse for human life-support. That is, a cylindrically-shaped controlled environment growing food crops hydroponically is the robotic biological processor that can provide oxygen, potable water and food calories for a person, assuming they provided CO2, electrical energy, plant nutrients and an initial charge of water. Much like Martian Mark Watney attempted! The fictional story is filled with challenges and facts and some success and failures, so to the Prototype Greenhouse in the LGH Lab. See http://ag.arizona.edu/lunargreenhouse/ for the full story. Consider that the limited resources on another planet will direct this project to learn to recycle and reuse water and nutrients, and to develop operations to increase energy and labor use efficiency.

Last month, the International Space Station team made news because they were the first to eat a crop grown in space. The astronauts on the ISS used hydroponic production to grow a small amount of lettuce in microgravity, while the focus of the UA Lunar Greenhouse is for a planet-based system that could feed astronauts continuously living on another planet. One benefit expected from this R&D, is improved Earth greenhouse food crops systems. 

More information about the current state of the Lunar Greenhouse project can be seen in a recent local news story featuring CEAC student, Erica Hernandez, and the director of the UA Space Systems Engineering Lab, Robert Furfaro: http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story /29836249/ua-researchers-build-lunar-greenhouse-prototype.

This article was published in the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center newsletter.

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