Who’s Up For Veggies from Outer Space?

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I love vegetables so I’d give moon veggies a try! It’s true, researchers from the University of Arizona Controlled Environmental Agriculture Center are studying how plants from Earth could be grown on the moon. They’ve built a prototype lunar greenhouse in the CEAC Extreme Climate Lab that’s located in UA’s Campus Agricultural Center which demonstrates how plants from Earth could be grown in space. Veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, peanuts and other vegetables could be grown hydroponically, or without soil. There’s one important thing to think about and that’s how these plants would get their water, especially since there’s a lack of natural water on the moon. Could it be from the astronauts themselves? Well, I’ll get to that in just a moment.

Tomatoes grown at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center in Arizona. Photo: UANews

In Arizona, the lunar greenhouse prototype consists of a proposed lunar base made up of 18-foot-long tubular structures. These tubes would be buried under the moon’s surface to protect not only the plants but also the astronauts from solar flares, cosmic rays and micrometeorites. At the prototype greenhouse, carbon dioxide is fed into it from pressurized tanks. However, the lunar base would get its carbon dioxide from the astronaut’s exhaled breath and the plants would get their water from them too. Actually it would be extracted from their urine. Hum, that doesn’t sound too appetizing (shhh…you probably don’t want to tell the astronauts that part).

The prototype greenhouse is an 18-foot-long hydroponic chamber with water-cooled sodium vapor lamps. Photo: University of Arizona

 The greenhouse contains about 220 pounds of wet plant material that can provide 53 quarts of drinking water and about three-quarters of a pound of oxygen during a 24-hour period, while consuming near 100 kilowatts of electricity and a pound of carbon dioxide. The lunar green house is similar to the CEAC food-production system that has been operating at the South Pole the past six years.

The principal investigator and CEAC Director Gene Giacomelli (above center) said they turned the greenhouse on about eight months ago to see how it would operate and that test run will be completed on Sept. 30. 

NASA is funding the test run under a $70,000 Ralph Steckler Space Grant Colonization Research and Technology Development Opportunity, which the CEAC obtained with help from UA’s Lunar Planetary Laboratory. The CEAC is now applying for Phase II of this grant, which would be an additional $225,000 for two years. The president of Sadler Machine Co., Phil Sadler (above left), paid for the greenhouse module, lights and water system out of his pocket.

I wonder if the “moon garden” would work on any of the other planets?

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