Extraterrestrial Farmers To Raise Grain Without Soil? (Aeroponics)

Posted by on Dec 7, 2010 in NASA, Space Food, Video | 2 comments

If you were to attempt to raise a garden utilizing only lunar or Martian soil, chances are that your precious plants would either die a horrible death or survive albeit malnourished.

While there are probably exceptions to this rule (i.e. asparagus might be able to thrive within Martian dirt), the vast majority of terrestrial plants will need terrestrial soil in order to thrive, which poses a huge problem for humanity (as people need to eat off world, let alone find employment).

Instead of importing tons of terrestrial soil from the homeworld or manufacturing large quantities from humans, it’s probably wiser to raise them without soil thanks to aeroponics.

Growing plants without any soil may conjure up images from a Star Trek movie, but it’s hardly science fiction. Aeroponics, as one soilless cultivation process is called, grows plants in an air or mist environment with no soil and very little water. Scientists have been experimenting with the method since the early 1940s, and aeroponics systems have been in use on a commercial basis since 1983.

“Who says that soil is a precondition for agriculture?” asked Graber. “There are two major preconditions for agriculture, the first being water and the second being plant nutrients. Modern agriculture makes extensive use of ‘soilless growing media,’ which can include many varied solid substrates.”

In 1997, NASA teamed up with AgriHouse and BioServe Space Technologies to design an experiment to test a soilless plant-growth system on board the Mir Space Station. NASA was particularly interested in this technology because of its low water requirement. Using this method to grow plants in space would reduce the amount of water that needs to be carried during a flight, which in turn decreases the payload. Aeroponically-grown crops also can be a source of oxygen and drinking water for space crews. (Astrobiology Magazine)

Using Aeroponics would not only reduce the overall cost of raising grain, but enable us to establish “self sustaining” colonies beyond the Jovain lunar worlds (such as Callisto, Ganymede and Saturn’s Titan), but also upon asteroids and Centaurs (aka giant comets like Chiron) as well.

While aeroponics would not be feasible for every time of plant available (i.e. raising forests would require tons of soil), it would make it easier to settle upon the worlds that dance around our yellow sun which would aid humanities quest to conquer the final frontier.

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Drinking Coffee In Micro Gravity (Minus The Bag)

Posted by on Nov 26, 2008 in Blog, Health, Humor, Space Food | 1 comment

(Hat Tip: Lunar News Network)

Perhaps one of the greatest pleasures in space is micro-gravity. While the lack of terrestrial pull can make your heart sing, the environment is not exactly great for your immune system, bones or muscles (and yes, that includes your heart as well).

While scientists may have devised ways to counter the effects of micro-gravity on the body via drugs and electrodes, no one seems to have thought about the creature comforts of drinking coffee without the aid of space bag–until now.

While the fact that one can enjoy a hot cup of coffee (or tea) without a straw will appeal to millions of Starbucks fans, this technology could easily be adapted for medical doctors who may need to hook up a patient with an IV bag.

Unless future space stations find a way to develop artificial gravity, future colonists may end up using these micro-gravity cups throughout our solar system.

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Martian Soil: Fertile For Asparagus?

Posted by on Jun 26, 2008 in Blog, Mars, NASA, Space Food | 1 comment

After gloriously landing on the red planet, the Phoenix lander has been able to not only analyze the small scoop of Martian soil within “its lab,” but also determine its fertility towards life.

(Space.com) After performing the first wet chemistry experiment ever done on another planet, Phoenix discovered that a sample it dug of Martian dirt contained several soluble minerals, including potassium, magnesium and chloride. Though the data is preliminary, the results are very exciting, scientists said.

“We basically have found what appears to be the requirements for nutrients to support life,” said Phoenix’s wet chemistry lab lead, Sam Kounaves of Tufts University. “This is the type of soil you’d probably have in your backyard. You might be able to grow asparagus pretty well, but probably not strawberries.”

Asparagus, which thrives in alkaline soil, would like the Martian dirt, which Phoenix measured to have a very alkaline pH of between eight to nine. Strawberries, meanwhile, like acidic soil, he said.

This analysis lays to rest one of the greatest fears about Martian soil, which many scientists had assumed to be fairly toxic towards Earthen life (or rather a few life forms at least).

While it is doubtful that Phoenix will be able to find anything alive on that crimson world (due to the radiation bombarding the surface), scientists may be able to figure out which plants would be able to survive upon Mars.

Although future colonists would probably still have to import fertilizer from Earth, they may be able to grow small gardens full of asparagus (note: and hopefully tomatoes, a favorite food of this author).

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Will Ants Replace Bees As The Solar Insect?

Posted by on Apr 23, 2008 in Blog, Plants And Animals, Science, Solar Essay, Space Food | 0 comments

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.”

King Solomon, Proverbs 6:6-8

Bees–whether you love them or hate them are an important insect, contributing an enormous amount to our food supply.

Without them, many of the foods that we eat (and take for granted) would be in scarce supply, which would be devastating for millions of tummies (not to mention agricultural stock holders) around the world.

Like many creatures, bees are dependent upon Earth’s magnetic field, which helps them navigate to and from their hive.

Unfortunately for humanity, global magnetic fields are a rarity throughout our solar system, as the only known “rocky” worlds hosting them belong to both Mercury and Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede.

Unless humanity is able to create an artificial magnetic field that can cover the entire planet, future off world settlers will become heavily dependent on both Mercury and Ganymede to grow their “daily bread” (not to mention Earth as well).

In order to avoid this scenario, our species will probably have to look towards another creature to help us grow our fruits and flowers–which may mean that humanity may have to rely upon ants to help raise our food supply off world.

While colonists would probably object towards importing fire ants (or even those flesh eating kind), they may want to consider adopting ants as a means of pollinating their flower crops and trees.

Even though they lack “the buzz” of their black and yellow friends, ants nonetheless are known to pollinate flowers.

Since many fruit trees require pollination in order produce a crop, ants may be able to compliment off world outposts since these insects rely upon smell, and not magnetic fields to guide themselves across long distances.

Like their flying “cousins,” some ant species are known to breed large colonies, which may make it easier for settlers to export numerous these creatures to other locations without the fear of depleting the original ant colony.

Despite the fact that when comparing apples to apples (note: no pun intended), bees far outstrip their dirt walkers when it comes to pollination (due to their flying ability), scientists may be able to train ants to aggressively pollinate plants grown off world, enabling future colonies to grow their own food supply instead of importing most of it from Earth.

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Delicious: Martian Menu May Include Bugs

Posted by on Nov 3, 2007 in Blog, Mars, Space Food | 0 comments

Often seen as a nuisance in the west, bugs may be a future staple of Martians everywhere–at least according to Japan.

(Discover Magazine) Now insects may become the next food frontier for space cuisine. The Space Agriculture Task Force, affiliated with the Japanese space agency, is looking for ways to feed astronauts on extended missions, like on a stint to Mars. A long stay on the Red Planet would require travelers to grow their own food, but a vegetable- and grain-based diet doesn’t efficiently supply fats and amino acids.

While they lack the appeal of a ripe banana or a juicy steak, Martians may end dining on these “cute” creatures out of necessity, rather than as a delicacy. Bugs would be easy to raise and grow, and could be easily fed on leftovers from colonists veggie dishes.

However, if humanity ever desires to support large populations on Mars, pigs may provide a much better option.

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Raising Pigs On Mars

Posted by on Oct 3, 2007 in Blog, Health, Mars, Plants And Animals, Solar Essay, Space Food | 4 comments

Orbiting our celestial star at an average distance of around 228 million kilometers, Mars is often romanticized as the next home world for humanity. Scientists and space enthusiasts alike often wonder what would life be like living on the red planet, and dream of the future culture that will emerge there.

The first explorers upon Mars will probably rely on supplies previously shipped to the red planet in order to survive upon this harsh world. But in order to settle on this crimson globe, future Martians will need to import fruits, vegetables, grain, trees and pigs–yes pigs.

Pigs represent many things to many people on Earth. To some pigs are smelly, ugly, awful creatures that only look half way descent when staring in a children’s film. To others they are delicious beasts who fit perfectly into ones personal barbecue.

Regardless of the viewpoint, pigs may serve a useful purpose on Mars, and could ultimately determine the fate of not only future colonists, but whether or not Martians thrive upon that rusty world.

When compared to Earth, Mars is a nightmare, medically speaking. Orbiting hundreds of millions of kilometers away from the nearest advanced hospital (that is fully equipped), future colonists will be in trouble if any of them required an organ transplant.

If finding a matching donor on Earth was not hard enough, imagine trying to locate one on Mars, especially if future settlements are spread out all over the planet? Since pigs already share many biological traits with humans, they may make prime candidates for people looking to replace a failing organ (or two).

Not only would these Martian swine make excellent “donors,” but they may also help determine whether or not it is safe for mothers to carry babies full term on Mars.

When compared to Earth, Martian gravity is only about 38% as strong as our home world. While this may not pose any problems for humans venturing to the crimson planet, it may pose a threat to future humans intending upon raising kids upon the red deserts.

Since pigs probably breed a lot faster than humans, scientists could study how gravity affects several generations in the long term without endangering a future soul from our own species. If any problems did arise, pigs would give scientists an opportunity to develop drugs to counter side affects early on, which would aid future humans down the road.

Another reason Martians may desire to take along Miss Piggy (and friends) is the fact that pigs (especially wild ones) will often eat anything one puts before them.

If future colonists raising crop encounter any of their plants spoiling (for whatever reasons), they would be able to feed the decaying leftovers to our pink (and sometimes black) friends, leaving nothing to rot. Future colonists could then take the pig waste and turn it into fertilizer for their crops, which may be a better option than using our own.

As far as food goes, pigs would also provide an excellent alternative to just simply eating “fruits and berries” on Mars. Pigs would also be much easier to transport than say, cattle, as a little piglet would weigh much less than a baby calf (as launching objects to GEO can cost between $5,000-$10,000 per pound).

For those who prefer to love on their animal friends (instead of dining upon them), pigs would make excellent pets. Having an intelligence greater than dogs as well as a love for cuddling, space faring kids may enjoy raising their pet Wilbur or Babe.

While humans could also transport chickens, fish, cats and dogs to Mars, these may be a little harder to justify expense wise, making the former two a delicacy and the latter couple an exotic Martian pet.

With all of the benefits of transporting (and raising) terrestrial swine to the crimson world, it may not be too surprising to see Mars in the future being labeled as “the pig planet.”

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