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Novel planters for astronauts grow beans in space

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Scientists have created high-tech planters that could allow astronauts to grow beans in space, and may also be used to produce more food on the Earth in a sustainable way.

Fresh food is so attractive to astronauts that they toasted with salad when they were able to cultivate a few lettuce heads on the International Space Station (ISS) three years ago, researchers said.

The longest stays at the ISS have been six months. People traveling to Mars will need to be prepared to stay in space for at least a year.

The European Space Agency plans to build a lunar base in 2030 as a stopover on the way to Mars. NASA plans to fly directly to the planet with a target landing date of 2030.

The new equipment comprises very sophisticated planters that regulate all the water, nutrients, gas and air the plants need. In space, all the water and food has to be recovered. This means that plant fertilization needs to be as precise as possible.

Wolff has conducted experiments in climate-regulated growth chambers in the Netherlands as one aspect of this research.

Of all the nutrients plants use, they use nitrogen the most. During her experiments, Wolff looked at different nutrient doses and how they affected the plants’ water uptake.

The next step is to grow beans in space to observe the effect of no gravity on plants’ ability to transport water and absorb nutrients. Simulating the absence of gravity can’t be done on Earth.

The beans are placed in a centrifuge to sprout and grow in the space station. The centrifuge is rotated to create different amounts of gravity.

 

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