What’s the Point of Growing Plants in Space?
Astronauts on the International Space Station have been growing plants for years as a potential source of food while in space. But are there any benefits for terrestrial gardeners?
Growing a perfect vegetable garden with plump tomatoes and perky peas – is tough enough. Now imagine an environment where there’s no night or day, where seeds and soil float off into the air, and where water poots in weird ways rather than flowing freely. The challenges of growing plants in space are such that one wonders whether there’s any point to it at all.
Benefits of Gardening in Space
But far from being an outlandish idea, space gardening is a flourishing area of scientific research with many benefits for us here on Earth. In recent years, scientists have discovered that more than 100 plant varieties – from cabbages to tulips-could grow well in space.
Since 2010, astronauts on the international space station have even been tending their space gardens. They are now eating their hand-grown lettuces, albeit in tiny portions, and have managed to get zinnias to flower in zero gravity. The pros of astronauts are clear: they get fresh food and activity that helps them stave off space-related boredom.
But what’s in for us mere Earth-dwellers?
As it turns out, cultivating crops in outer space can teach us a lot about growing plants more efficiently. One technology that has come from space farming is a sensor that ‘texts’ the gardener – whichever orbit they are in – when the plant needs watering. Another device that removes nasty gases – such as ethylene – from space gardens is now used to keep food fresh in supermarkets, factories, and restaurants.
In the longer term, by 2050, we will need to produce 70% more food to feed the nine billion humans living on Earth. That might well require more land than our won planet can provide. And if we’re ever going to make it to Mars, it would be nice to think that we’d have some fresh food upon arrival.
Growing plants in space have its own set of challenges too. But it is surprising to discover that plants are grown in zero gravity for weeks or months acclimatize and can flower and seed usually.
Thus, it might be too early to determine the benefits of growing plants in space for the ones living on Earth, but it will help us discover new techniques that would prove beneficial for gardening. Read about Gardening as therapeutic and healing activity.
Reference: Gardening Australia (Magazine)