Plants can grow in lunar regolith, but they’re not happy about it

NASA is sending astronauts back to the Moon by the end of this decade, and hope to send humans to Mars sometime in the 2030s. Growing food in space using in-situ resources is vital if astronauts are to survive on both the Moon and Mars for the long-term. Growing plants in space using Earth soil is nothing new, as this research is currently ongoing onboard the International Space Station (ISS). But recent research carried out on Earth has taken crucial steps in being able to grow food in space using extraterrestrial material that we took from the Moon over 50 years ago.

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Cultured Meat Could Keep Astronauts fed in Space

The term “cultured meat” has become a bit of a buzzword for the health food industry. This refers to meat produced in a lab using in vitro cell cultures derived from animal proteins. For many, this “alternative meat” is vital to combatting climate change by removing one of the chief causes of deforestation (making room for cattle ranches) and global warming (bovine methane emissions). For others, it’s an environmentally-friendly way of ensuring food security in an era of climate change.

But what about as a means of feeding astronauts on long-duration missions or living for extended periods beyond Earth? In this case, cultured meat would be a way of fulfilling the dietary needs of astronauts who would otherwise be entirely dependent on vegetable proteins. The possibility is currently being explored by the European Space Agency (ESA) and could be a game-changer for future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond!

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Future Astronauts Could Enjoy Fresh Vegetables From an Autonomous Orbital Greenhouse

If humanity is going to become a spare-faring and interplanetary species, one of the most important things will be the ability of astronauts to see to their needs independently. Relying on regular shipments of supplies from Earth is not only inelegant; it’s also impractical and very expensive. For this reason, scientists are working to create technologies that would allow astronauts to provide for their own food, water, and breathable air.

To this end, a team of researchers from Tomsk Polytechnic University in central Russia – along with scientists from other universities and research institutes in the region – recently developed a prototype for an orbital greenhouse. Known as the Orbital Biological Automatic Module, this device allows plants to be grown and cultivated in space and could be heading to the International Space Station (ISS) in the coming years.

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How Do Astronauts Celebrate Thanksgiving On The Space Station?

As Americans get ready for turkey feasts and other Thanksgiving goodies today, let’s take a few moments to think about the crew of six people on board the International Space Station. Two Americans, a European and three Russians are working there now and will be taking most of today (Nov. 26) off for the holiday.

What the heck will they eat? The NASA interview above provides some clues, including a surprise about leftovers. More details below the jump.

NASA, which is responsible for supplying the three astronauts using the American segment of the space station, generally allocates four pounds of food per crew member per day (including packaging), according to Vickie Kloeris, food system manager for the station. Astronauts can also bring a little bit of bonus food with them for special treats. The food isn’t sent up as meal plans, but as different kinds (meats, vegetables, and the like) that the astronauts can assemble at will.

“We don’t have a set-aside meal for Thanksgiving. but they do have all these products available to choose from,” Kloeris said in the interview. “Crew members do know that they’re going to be on orbit during the holidays, [so] they often put special items in their bonus containers with the holidays in mind.”

Kloreis said she couldn’t reveal what Expedition 42 has in its grab boxes, but in the past astronauts have brought up items such as cranberry sauce or icing/frosting to put on cookies in orbit.

Below you can see a recent tweet from former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield concerning a typical meal for astronauts, which he put up with a Thanksgiving reference. Whatever the crew is having up there, we wish them a Happy Thanksgiving!