In the Eden ISS greenhouse, broccoli, lettuce, radish and other vegetables were harvested. Everything was normal, if it weren't for a small detail: the 12 square meter greenhouse is in the Antarcticada, near the Neumayer III research station. Under artificial light and without soil, salad items grow and thrive in the polar climate, giving good perspectives on farming for human missions on the moon or in Mars.
The greenhouse is operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR) and has existed since 2018. The idea is precisely to get as close as possible to the conditions of a long-term mission in space. In addition to growing food, scientists working at Eden ISS are researching future production in areas of unfavorable climates, such as deserts and frozen regions.
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The scientist Jess Bunchek, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, takes care of the vegetables. She researched how astronauts can grow lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and herbs in the future with as little time and energy as possible, as well as testing greenhouse technology and robust plant varieties.
Every day, botany walks 400 meters to the container, at temperatures reaching -50ºC. There, in the greenhouse, vegetables are grown with the technique of aeroponics, when the roots are suspended.
Nutrients and water are provided in a special formula sprayed on the plants, without the presence of soil. Eden ISS produced, in nine and a half months, 268 kilograms of food, including 67 kilograms of cucumbers, 117 kilograms of lettuce and 50 kilograms of tomatoes.
An irrigation system that can operate under zero gravity is also tested in the greenhouse, as in the International Space Station (ISS). The system automatically holds and transports water to plants.
“We are implementing three main technologies to grow the plants. We use water-cooled LED lamps to provide light, spray the roots of the plants every five minutes with a nutrient solution, inject carbon dioxide into the atmosphere around the plants and control the humidity and temperature, ”said Daniel Schubert, project leader .
The expectation now is that by 2030 greenhouses like the Eden ISS will be ready for construction and use on lunar soil. Both in Moon as on Mars, greenhouses need to have a closed circuit, recycling human waste and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to provide food and oxygen for the crew. For now, Eden ISS uses a semi-closed loop, collecting evaporation water through a dehumidification system.
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