Learning to Grow Strawberries-In Space
Growing fresh produce in outer space sounds like something from a movie, but a team of students at the University of Colorado in Boulder will spend the next academic year making it a reality.
Funded by a $40,000 grant from NASA, the team of aerospace engineering and computer science students will design and construct a bioregenerative food system that will be tended and harvested by a robotic arm. The collaboration highlights the strengths of each group, with the aerospace engineering students focusing on creating the system, while the computer science students will program the arm to tend to the plants.
Because space is at a premium in space craft, the main challenge for the team is to construct not only a self contained system that works, but to make it small enough to be effective on board a shuttle.
Currently, cuisine for astronauts is mainly comprised of dehydrated food like MREs- Meals Ready to Eat- similar to what soldiers are given in the military. The only time astronauts receive fresh produce is from a resupply mission which is limited quantity and only lasts a few weeks.
The hope is that bioregenerative systems could provide processes for the life support system during long term space exploration rather than machinery that requires replenishing supplies to operate. The plants grown can scrub the carbon dioxide from the air, filter water and provide oxygen much more easily than the large machines we have now.
CU's proposal, along with four others were selected to participate in the 2013 Exploration Habitat Academic Innovation Challenge, in which “may result in innovative ideas and solutions that could be applied to exploration habitats,” according to NASA's website.