Farming in Space

Forget tractors. Farming goes high-tech as NASA readies its Advanced Plant Habitat to grow plants in orbit.


Remember how cool (and a little disgusting) it was when Matt Damon figured out how to grow potatoes on Mars in the movie “The Martian”?

The ability to source his own food supply was key to the character’s survival—a strategy that’s not lost on NASA. According to an article in Popular Science, NASA is actively experimenting with helping astronauts grow their own food in orbit––most recently with the Advanced Plant Habitat, a second-generation plant growth system. The habitat is equipped with more than 180 sensors and three cameras to record every step in the growth of plants aboard the space station, giving researchers unprecedented insight into how plants are shaped by microgravity and other forces in space.

The data that’s collected will be processed by PHARMER, an on-board computer system that stands for Plant Habitat Avionics Real-Time Manager in Express Rack. The idea is the the Plant Habitat will run with very little input and will grow plants, greatly reducing the cost of shipping food to the space station and ensuring that food lasts longer. For some context, the artice notes that it costs about $10,000 for every pound of food that’s sent to the space station crew.

While the habitat is currently a research project, NASA officials say some sort of space farm technology is crucial for making human life beyond Earth sustainable. So before folks book a ticket to a Mars space colony for 2025, it’s best to make sure everyone's green thumbs are ready.

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