Scientists in Norway and the Netherlands may have brought us closer to workable space farms, which experts agree are necessary if astronauts are ever going to reach the red planet.
“Astronauts stay on the International Space Station for six months and they can bring everything they need in either freeze-dried or vacuum packs, but the next goal for all space agencies is to reach Mars where travel is much longer,” explained Silje Wolff, a plant physiologist at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space in Trondheim, Norway.
In the best possible conditions, it would take a spacecraft between six and nine months to reach Mars and the same to get back — not to mention the additional months they would likely spend there.
“It’s very challenging, if not impossible, for them to take everything they would need for such a long mission,” she said.
Growing plants in space is tough — low gravity means water distribution is difficult to manage, the roots are often starved of oxygen, and stagnant air reduces evaporation and increases the leaf temperature.
But in a recent study, published in the journal Life, Wolff conducted a sequence of trial-and-error tests to perfect the process of growing lettuce, data which the researchers plan to use to grow salad in space.