NASA is now preparing to deploy the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission-1. While the rocket launch is destined to go to Mars, the possibilities of growing food during the time astronauts stay on the red planet.

The opportunity to grow food crops successfully in controlled environments for the duration of the mission would be a notorious asset to the Mars trip. The author of the research Ray Wheeler is the lead for Advanced Life Support Research activities. Wheeler is working on the real plant research at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Mars surface, in a picture taken by the rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the 538th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 9, 2014). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Mars’ surface, in a picture taken by the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the 538th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (Feb. 9, 2014). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In recent films as “The Martian”, it’s shown how important it is to grow food in order to survive on a planet far from Earth. The movie depicts a controlled environment where vegetables can be able to sprout, thus, making astronauts able to grow their own food for the duration of the mission. Researchers, alongside Wheeler, are still trying to determine ways to grow fresh food in a secluded location as space or another planet.

Impressively enough, it’s worth noticing that astronauts on the International Space Station already harvested a variety of red romaine lettuce. The vegetable was developed in a growth system called Veggie. The results of the research would make a groundbreaking achievement as it would set the guidelines for future space farms. It would also help astronauts with their diet as the change from dehydrated foods and pills to natural fresh foods would be beneficial.

The most suitable crops to grow in space are potato crops, according to Wheeler. Potatoes, wheat, and soybeans are all candidates for space crop fields as they provide high rates of carbohydrates and high protein sources. Researchers developing the study alongside Wheeler say that potatoes can produce twice the amount of food as some other seed crops.

“There’s something special about potato tubers,” said Ray Wheeler. “Potatoes have ‘eyes’ or buds. If given enough time, the eyes sprout. Sections of potatoes containing at least one bud could be replanted so they can sprout and produce new plants.”

What could possibly go wrong?

NASA’s astronaut program to initiate an exploration mission to Mars is expected to launch in the 2030s. The journey itself contains many obstacles to be taken care of before astronauts can start their training to visit the red planet. The first problem involves escaping Earth’s gravity and then cruising through space for six months. The trip to Mars would be many times longer than the trip to the moon, which is the furthest destination astronauts have traveled so far.

It’s important to remember that farming is not an easy task even on Earth. The seeds can die, the equipment can break and the weather is unpredictable. Now, researchers have to develop a way for astronauts to harvest vegetables safely in outer space. There will be many mistakes and unsuccessful crop fields, at first, no doubt. Although, scientists at NASA continue to study which vegetable is more likely to grow on Mars or the International Space Station.

The engineering issues also deserve astronaut’s attention, as they would pose the biggest threat if anything goes wrong. The landing of the spacecraft on the surface of Mars is something that NASA has already experienced as they have landed rovers. However, landing a car-sized robot is not the same as landing a spacecraft including the astronauts aboard.

Source: CNET