NASA's latest developments in preparation for launching crewed missions to Mars include a prototype inflatable greenhouse for helping to feed Martian colonists.
The New York Post reports that NASA created the Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse project in conjunction with the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center.
The cylindrical greenhouse is 18 feet long and just over seven feet in diameter. The greenhouse makes use of a prototype bio-regenerative life support system which is meant to mimic the conditions under which plants grow on Earth.
“The approach uses plants to scrub carbon dioxide while providing food and oxygen,” Ray Wheeler of NASA said in a statement.
The greenhouse is designed to gather carbon dioxide exhaled by humans for the plants to absorb as they photosynthesize and release oxygen into the air. The initial supply of water would be provided from supply stores or from Martian or lunar terrain, then captured and recycled.
“We’re mimicking what the plants would have if they were on Earth and make use of these processes for life support,” Gene Giacomelli of the University of Arizona said. “The entire system of the lunar greenhouse does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on Earth.”
Further research is being conducted to determine the best plant species for growing beyond the bounds of Earth.
“I think it’s interesting to consider that we’re taking our terrestrial companions with us,” Wheeler said. “While there may be ways to engineer around it in terms of stowage and resupply, it wouldn’t be as sustainable. The greenhouses provide a more autonomous approach to long-term exploration on the moon, Mars and beyond.”
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