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NASA Is Developing Space Farming; Growing Food In Mars May Soon Be Possible

Apr 08, 2016 04:10 AM EDT

It's reminiscent of a scene in "The Martian" movie where Matt Damon successfully grew and ate potatoes in Mars. Except this time, it's happening in real life. 

NASA is continuously developing space farming technology so that astronauts can grow plant and food inside the International Space Station.

But what really is space farming?

According to a report, NASA has been experimenting with growing food in space so that astronauts will have access to fresh produce. NASA's pioneer space farming project is called Veg-01

In August last year, 44 space station crew members, including recently retired astronaut Scott Kelly, got to try the space-grown red romaine lettuce.

How does it work?

Veg-01, or the Veggie Hardware Validation Test, is developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC). NASA described space farming as a "collapsible and expandable Veggie unit (which) features a flat-panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation."

Although the experiment successfully produced edible vegetables, microgravity affects the produce. That's why astronauts observed precautions before ingesting or eating the space-grown vegetables.

Why is the knowledge on space farming critical to NASA?

Health-wise, it benefits the space station crew. Surprisingly, it affects the psychological state of a human being, too. In fact, there's a whole team of doctors and scientists studying the impact of eating fresh produce grown in space vis-a-vis the astronauts' behavior. 

"The Veggie experiment is currently the only experiment we are supporting which involves evaluating the effects of plant life on humans in space," said Alexandra Whitmire of NASA's Johnson Space Center. 

Dr. Gioia Massa, another expert on the matter, agreed and added that that indeed there may be psychological benefits to growing your own edible garden in space, even if away from our planet Earth.

But space farming is not solely developed for the International Space Station. NASA is considering the technology to be employed during the future long-term journey to Mars.

Dr. Massa said, "The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits."

A deep space exploration to Mars aboard the Orion is set to happen in 2020.

How can humans on Earth take part in NASA's experiment?

Some people are lucky enough to take part in some space farming experiments. Just recently, high school students from Chicago were given a chance to try and grow tomato seeds aged in space. 

Tomatosphere partnered with NASA to send their seeds to the International Space Station. After some time, these seeds were sent back to Earth and distributed to science schools in Canada and the U.S.

This project can also help NASA determine the effect of microgravity on the seed growth.

It has been years since NASA started their experimentation with space farming. The fact that astronauts were able to eat fresh produce in space gives us all hope. 

It may be a long way but small achievements will definitely lead to giant leaps of mankind towards sustainable living conditions in the International Space Station--and who knows? Maybe even in Mars. And Matt Damon's Martian potatoes might not be too far away.

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