NASA has published a series of images showcasing the prototype of an inflatable greenhouse that may one day be used to grow food in Earth-like conditions…while on Mars. The greenhouse and others like it would exist to provide food for human astronauts who eventually make their way to the Red Planet. This prototype joins numerous studies conducted by the space agency that evaluate which foods are ideal for space growth and the best ways to encourage their growth in adverse conditions.
NASA researchers are developing the prototype greenhouses alongside a team at the University of Arizona, where scientists are determine which materials, seeds, and resulting plants are ideal for growth on both Mars and on the moon. These greenhouses could also one day be used on the moon to provide fresh food for individuals stationed at long-term bases, another area of increased focus.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where the work is being performed calls this the Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse project. Ultimately the researchers are creating a closed-loop system that will provide the plants with oxygen while shuttling away carbon dioxide from the astronauts, sustaining the plants despite the inhospitable environment just outside their walls.
Oxygenated water is delivered to the plants’ root systems, and any remaining water is pushed back into a storage system for use during future watering cycles. Nutrient salts are likewise added to the water to provide necessary compounds to sustain life. While the development of this system continues, University researchers are determining which plants are ideal for delivery to the moon and, later on, to Mars.
Potatoes are one very promising plant as indicated by a recent experiment. Researchers were able to successfully grow a potato plant in a simulated Mars environment, indicating that through selective breeding and genetic engineering it may one day be possible to grow certain vegetables in less-than-ideal Earth-like conditions.