Earlier this year, it was revealed that a NASA research team was hard at work planning a vegan menu for a future 2030 trip to Mars. Since the trip to the red planet will take six months, astronauts are going to have to grow their own food. Over 100 recipes are planned, and with the exception of some frozen sushi, they will all be plant-based.
“That menu is favorable because it allows the astronauts to actually have live plants that are growing,” said Maya Cooper, senior research scientist for Lockheed Martin. “You have optimum nutrient delivery with fresh fruits and vegetables, and it actually allows them to have freedom of choice when they’re actually cooking the menus because the food isn’t already pre-prepared into a particular recipe.”
Earlier this week, NASA unveiled an early version of one of the systems that will be used to turn astronauts into interstellar farmers. Called the Vegetable Production System, or VEGGIE for short, NASA is hopeful that the simple setup will allows easy and fast growth of vegetables in space.
“VEGGIE could be used to produce faster-growing species of plants, such as lettuce or radishes, bok choy or Chinese cabbage, or even bitter leafy greens” Gioia Massa said. “Crops like tomatoes, peas or beans in which you’d have to have a flower and set fruit would take a little longer than a 28-day cycle.”
About the size of a stove-top microwave oven, VEGGIE weighs less than 15 pounds and consumes only 115 watts (half the energy needed to power a monitor). Besides providing food, the system also offers something of a calming effect to astronauts.
“Based upon anecdotal evidence, crews report that having plants around was very comforting and helped them feel less out of touch with Earth,” Massa said. “You could also think of plants as pets. The crew just likes to nurture them.”
In simple terms, the VEGGIE system works like this: Clear Teflon bellows that can be adjusted for plants as they grow are attached to a metal frame housing the system’s power and light switches. A rooting pillow made of Teflon-coated Kevlar and Nomex will contain the planting media, such as soil or claylike particles, along with fertilizer pellets. Seeds either will be preloaded in the pillows on Earth or inserted by astronauts in space. To water the plants, crew members will use a reservoir located beneath the pillows and a root mat to effectively add moisture through an automatic wicking process.
Very cool. To see more of the system and the plants it has grown, jump here.