(ORDO NEWS) — Future Artemis missions plan to take crews to the Moon and eventually Mars. But what will the astronauts eat? There are not many protein bars and vitamins that you can live on for several years in a row.
Plants are the basis of life on Earth and a logical solution to support people in space. Astronauts have already eaten space radish, chili peppers and lettuce grown on the ISS.
Eating fresh vegetables in microgravity could keep astronauts healthy. But in order to grow a blooming space garden, a number of problems must be solved.
The space environment is rich in Co₂, it lacks soil microbes, and gravity has been changed. Plants are exposed to potentially harmful solar radiation and require recycled water with a high salt content.
In order for plants to thrive in space and offer the full spectrum of nutrients, they need to be redesigned.
Space plants are currently grown in closed boxes with LED lights, in porous clay soil with water.
Nutrients are delivered to their roots, and sensors and cameras monitor their health. However, plants growing under such conditions have limited growth potential.
Future systems for growing plants in space must be fully sustainable. This means working with all other systems on the space station or lunar/martian base, recycling water and nutrients.
All plant parts will need to be used as food, composted or processed into useful products. Human waste, including urine, is a source of plant nutrients, but plants must be able to handle this source of salt water.
However, there is one plant that might be particularly suitable for this task.
Duckweed may not be available in the supermarket, but this fast growing plant can easily survive in space gardens, with the whole plant being eaten.
Duckweed doubles its weight in just two days and is rich in protein, nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins.
Recent technical advances in genome editing, gene regulation, and nutrient analysis techniques can be used to adapt duckweed and other plants for optimal growth and minimal waste.
New plants designed in this way can contain proteins ideally balanced for digestion, healthy vegetable oils for energy boost, and soluble fiber for improved gut and cardiovascular health.
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