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Space Greenhouse: NASA to Unveil Largest Plant Habitat for ISS in 2017

Nov 25, 2016 04:36 AM EST
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NASA is taking a step towards growing food for long-duration missions by testing a prototype of a space-based greenhouse for the International Space Station (ISS).

A high fidelity test version of NASA's Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), the largest plant chamber built for the space station, arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week.

NASA engineers, scientists and technicians will train with the test unit to learn how to handle and assemble it before the actual APH unit arrives early next year, as well as test how the science integrates with the various systems of the plant habitat, NASA said in a statement.

The APH is a close-loop system with a controlled environment that could hold large plants. Like the Veggie growth system currently installed on the space station, which has been used to grow varieties of lettuce, the APH is also equipped with red, green and blue LED lights. The giant greenhouse could also use while LEDs and infrared light, and will have about 180 sensors and four times the light output of the space station's Veggie.

According to a NASA blog post, scientists at Kennedy Space Center developed the science carrier that will be inserted in the APH for plant growth experiments on the ISS and control experiments on the ground. The small-scale experiment, which is called Plant Habitat 1 or PH01, will contain Arabidopsis seeds - small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard. Both PH01 and APH will be delivered to the ISS in 2017.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough had begun the latest Veggie experiment aboard the ISS, which is called Veg-03. The experiment will be a validation of the tools and procedures needed to grow plants to provide fresh food for astronauts. Kimbrough started installing hardware and plant pillows, a growth media that includes controlled release fertilizer and a type of calcined clay used on baseball fields. To grow the crops, the crew will simply add a small amount of water into them.

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