UA researchers build lunar greenhouse prototype
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Growing plants in space has never seemed more accessible since NASA astronauts made headlines by tasting lettuce grown at the International Space Station earlier this month.
Scientists at the University of Arizona may not be growing produce in microgravity conditions, but they are researching ways to grow food on the moon.
The UA Controlled Environment Agriculture Center has been involved in developing a lunar greenhouse that attempts to do more than simply grow produce using hydroponics.
"We proposed a prototype lunar greenhouse that acts as a bioregenerative life support system for long-term exploration," said Dr. Robert Furfaro, associate professor and director of the UA Space Systems Engineering Lab.
Furfaro has been part of the project since the proposal was conceived in 2010 under the vision of the late Ralph Steckler and his dreams of space colonization.
The project, which is currently in its third phase, aims to also look into "poly cultivation," Furfaro said.
"Multicrops have never been tried. For example in this unit, we're trying to put together many crops altogether and see what kind of performance we can get," Furfaro said.
Crops like lettuce, strawberries, sweet potatoes and cowpeas, which have successfully been cultivated in the prototype chamber.
While offering nutritious food in space is one goal, a big part of it is doing so sustainably.
"We're looking at going to the moon or Mars and possibly staying for a longer period of time at either of those places and part of the problem with staying longer anywhere, is that we have to transport all of the goods that we might need to support a longer mission. And that gets really expensive," said UA Senior Erica Hernandez.
Hernandez said the project look into ways to recycle water and oxygen within the chamber to sustain an astronaut.
Her own research explores how certain kinds of light can transform green-leaf lettuce into a more antioxidant-rich version with red leaves.
"So really being able to control the production of that compound would be beneficial for a human diet, as well as having the plants looking attractive," Hernandez said.
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