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Bounteous harvest in Antarctic greenhouse may bode well for Mars colonization

A greenhouse in Antarctica testing technologies that could one day grow food for Mars colonists has produced an abundant harvest of greens, vegetables, and spices completely without soil and natural light, showing promise for future space missions. The greenhouse, called EDEN ISS, is operated by the German Aerospace Center (known by its German acronym, DLR) near the Neumayer III Station, a polar research outpost located on the Ekström Ice Shelf on the eastern coast of Antarctica. 

NASA scientist Jess Bunchek, who joined this year's overwintering crew at the station, planted a range of vegetables and greens in the fully automated greenhouse a few months ago. The crops — which included broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, chard, chili peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a range of lettuces and spices — enlivened the otherwise dull diet of long-shelf-life foods that the crew members have to rely on. "We have never been able to grow so many different varieties of vegetables and herbs during an overwintering mission with EDEN ISS," Daniel Schubert, EDEN ISS project leader at DLR, said in a statement.

Some of the plants grown by Bunchek have previously been grown on the International Space Station. The scientist plans to compare how the plants fared in the Earth-based "space" greenhouse compared to those grown in two mini-gardens on the orbital outpost, the Veggie and the Advanced Plant Habitat experiments.

"I am relieved by how well the crops have grown thus far," Bunchek said in the statement. "EDEN ISS is unique and groundbreaking in that respect. We are collecting large amounts of data on system performance and resiliency, crop health and production, environment and crop microbiology, food safety, nutrition, crew psychology, and the required inputs such as power, water, and crew time."

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