Friday, June 21, 2024

Space Farming.. Can Fresh Food Be Delivered on the Moon and Mars? | Science

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As global space agencies plan missions to the Moon and Mars, one of the biggest challenges is finding a way to feed crew members for the weeks, months and even years they spend in space.

Astronauts on the International Space Station primarily eat packaged meals, which require regular resupply and can deteriorate in quality and nutrition, as well as being too expensive to ship. Researchers are exploring the idea of ​​crews growing their own food during the mission. Overcoming some of the problems of space farming.

Rajkumar Hassamani, of the Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology at the University of Agricultural Sciences in India, told Al Jazeera Net in an emailed statement that according to NASA, “it costs between 20 and 20 to send a kilogram of packaged food to the International Space Station. 40 thousand dollars.” Each crew would need 1.8 kilograms per day (including packing materials), and since the International Space Station is about 400 kilometers from Earth’s surface, one can now imagine the cost and difficulty of sending packed food. To the Moon and Mars.”

Hosamani added, “According to an estimate, a crew of 4 would need 10 to 12 thousand kg of food for a 3-year journey, which is logistically impossible and not economically viable. Therefore, food production inside a ship “is necessary for long-duration space exploration missions in space or on the surface of a planet.”

Results of space agriculture research have direct applications to terrestrial agriculture (NASA).

Two main challenges

For food to be produced in space, there are two main challenges: creating a robust and effective ecosystem that supports plant growth, and optimizing crops to adapt to a controlled environment that can adjust plant metabolism. To meet the wide and changing needs.

The first challenge includes some of the physical constraints that dominate space travel and planetary surfaces, so it’s important to consider energy, water, light, temperature, atmospheric control, waste reduction strategies, cost, etc., he explains. Creating habitats that support plant growth.

“These are engineering problems that we’ve been very successful in supporting plant growth in space,” says Hassamani. “For example, NASA’s Fiji Vegetable Production System project currently on the International Space Station is a testament to that.”

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The vegetable production system program, whose mission is to provide astronauts with a self-sufficient and sustainable food source, and a means of recreation and relaxation through therapeutic gardens.

A major concern on which research groups around the world are currently working is the physiological limitations associated with the second challenge, which may be encountered during space missions or on planetary surfaces. Research revolves around these limitations, for example:

  • High levels of carbon dioxide, and the need to design a solution to withstand those high levels.
  • Areas of local oxygen depletion are steeper, resulting in an oxygenated state. Can we develop plants that can efficiently combat low oxygen levels?
  • Is it possible to improve plant structure, create a less intensive form, so multiple layers can be stacked in a smaller space?
  • DNA damage and mitochondrial dysfunction are widespread in the case of spaceflight.
  • Extensive remodeling of the cell wall and changes in the composition and structure of polysaccharides directly affect the digestive health of astronauts.Could we engineer high-fiber plants for astronauts?
  • Loss of taste, texture, flavor and taste of food. Menu boredom is a common problem among astronauts. How to reduce menu boredom?
  • Many minerals and phytochemicals are lost in space, so how can we collect these minerals, phytochemicals and micronutrients in the plant itself to support the nutritional needs of astronauts?

“Our lab and others around the world will address these questions, and we hope that biotechnology, synthetic biology, and metabolic engineering tools will help us answer them and design plants for space agriculture,” says Hassamani.

Space farming has many advantages, it provides oxygen and moisture, and removes carbon dioxide (NASA).

Food and other reasons

For his part, Javier Medina, who leads the research team at the Margarita Salas Center for Biological Research in Spain, talked about the many benefits of space farming beyond food support for astronauts.

In a statement via email to Al Jazeera Net, Medina said, “Plants can play an important role primarily as high-quality food, as they provide astronauts with many essential nutrients, providing fresh food instead of freeze-dried packages. “Also, by providing oxygen and moisture, the waste products of human life. “Plants also contribute to other aspects of life support by removing carbon dioxide,” they now consume.

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To facilitate space agriculture to achieve these objectives, Medina participated in a series of experiments aboard the International Space Station to study the effects of the absence of gravity (zero gravity or microgravity) on plant growth and development and to investigate plant adaptation mechanisms. The space environment helps plants grow in this space.

“Gravity is an essential environmental factor for plants because it determines the direction of plant growth. Specifically, gravity causes roots to grow downward (toward the soil, where they take up water and mineral salts), and stems to grow upward (toward the sunlight needed for the metabolic process.” It’s called the gravitational response, and it’s suppressed under zero gravity, whereas plants can survive and thrive in the microgravity spaceflight environment.”

He adds, “Microgravity has adverse effects on plant development, such as an imbalance in cell growth and reproduction in roots or a significant reprogramming of gene expression, with some genes repressed and others activated. The ability of plants to survive and complete their life cycle under microgravity is the ability of plants to adapt to this new A major research challenge is to identify environmental cues such as light that can offset the negative effects of microbial gravity, thus facilitating adaptation. Plant”.

The fact that plants can survive and complete their life cycle in microgravity means they have adaptive mechanisms (NASA).

Red light activation

The NASA/ESA “Seedling Growth” research project, in which Medina participated and consisted of a series of spaceflight experiments aboard the International Space Station (2013-2018), demonstrated the positive effect of red light activation on the resulting stress response. Space travel..

Various cellular and molecular markers of the plants were compared in microgravity, lunar and Mars gravity conditions, and Earth gravity, with or without red light stimulation. The researchers found that red light restores the balance between cell proliferation and root growth. In precise whole-plant development, gene expression changes revealed different adaptive responses to different levels of gravity, including regulatory changes of various genes, and in all cases, they appeared to be modulated by red light activation.

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“The bottom line is that lunar gravity can have very severe effects on spaceflight, but Martian gravity showed a more modest change than microgravity, and in all cases, the adaptive response was enhanced by red light photostimulation,” says Medina.

Space exploration has produced significant advances in our knowledge of plant response to various types of stress (Chinese Academy of Sciences).

Wholesaling benefits

The research could lead to providing new food for astronauts on missions to the Moon and Mars, but such research is seen by some as “luxurious” and of no practical value, the two researchers deny.

“Space research generates the most important income related to human life on Earth, which contributes to improving our daily lives on our planet,” Medina says. Arises from space research and benefited medical progress.” “Aimed to fight diseases through space experiments, including age-related diseases, musculoskeletal diseases, cardiovascular and immune changes, and especially dealing with plant biology and agriculture.”

Also, “Space research has produced great advances in our knowledge of plant response to various types of stressors, and in plant breeding practices, in the search for more efficient and sustainable agriculture. Applying these advances on Earth is critical in our current environment. Climate change, we must change our models to use… Human food plants on earth.

Hossamani focuses on translating the results of space agriculture research into direct applications in terrestrial agriculture, and limits them to the following points:

  • Space agriculture research can help develop technologies that benefit the concept of a circular agricultural economy, as resource waste can be minimal or zero, and this has direct implications for conservation agriculture on Earth.
  • Space breeding is another application that comes directly from space agriculture research, and China has a dedicated space breeding program to help develop better varieties with higher yields, disease resistance, etc.
  • Breeding speed is another byproduct that helps plant breeders develop better varieties faster, reducing the time needed to breed new varieties.
Stuart Wagner
Stuart Wagner
"Professional coffee fan. Total beer nerd. Hardcore reader. Alcohol fanatic. Evil twitter buff. Friendly tv scholar."

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