This page is dedicated to planning the next steps required to make humans an astrobotanical species; a species that can provide for themselves not only in spaceflight, but also on other planets.
Steps to Sustainable Space Agriculture
- collect comprehensive data on how spaceflight affects plant growth
- push forward plant biology ground control research
- build spaceflight equipment optimized for plant cultivation; build plant growth systems
- genetically engineer crops resistant to unavoidable spaceflight stressors
- create the first completely sustainable life support system for spacecraft
- establish the first astrobotanical base on another astronomical body (Moon, planet)
- consider the overlap between astrobotany and terra-forming other planets and the implications both disciplines have
1. collect comprehensive data on how spaceflight affects plant growth
Growing plants in space has been on our minds since the inception of Earth’s first successful spaceflight programs. In 1946 the first seeds were launched by the U.S. on V-2 rockets. Seventy years later space agencies from NASA to JAXA to CSA to DLR to ROSCOSMOS have made it a priority to study astrobotany. The collection of data of plants experiencing spaceflight is a growing body of work.
2. push forward plant biology ground control research
Continuing to run plant experiments in space will be important, but ground control research is a realistic way to continue researching plant biology and spaceflight. Creating equipment and environments on Earth that mimics spaceflight, and then subjecting plants to these stressors is more economical and makes research easier. Specifically, genetically engineering plants that have targeted genes of interest will provide valuable insight to astrobotany work.
3. build spaceflight equipment optimized for plant cultivation; build plant growth systems
Growing plants on Earth is relatively simple to growing plants in space. A good deal of area is required to create sustainable crop size and a good deal of area is something that our current spacecraft lack. Creative engineering solutions such as modular and circular plant growth chambers are being used to address these issues. Also, all plants are not created equal. Different crops require different growing conditions, and different environments. The most important crops must have plant growth systems optimized for their unique growing patterns and cultivation.
4. genetically engineer crops resistant to unavoidable spaceflight stressors
GMOs are a controversial topic on Earth, but one would be interested to ask the public how they felt about GMOs in space. Making crops resistant to the most stressing aspects of spaceflight is ideal for astrobotany: we may not be able to protect plants from oxidative stress using any equipment, but the answer may be in their genes. Strong crops will mean better life support.
5. create the first completely sustainable life support system for spacecraft
A spacecraft that can feed its inhabitants, recycle its own atmosphere, and provide a living space? Right now, it may be a pipe dream, but in the future it will be necessary. Building a spacecraft that can keep itself is sure to be a milestone in astrobotany research.
6. establish the first astrobotanical base on another astronomical body (Moon, planet)
Moon gardens, Mars fields: wherever humans will establish themselves they will establish their agriculture. The first sustainable astrobotanical base would be a huge achievement in human space exploration. Building a base that is suited for the needs of whatever astronomical body it is on is no small feat: one that may be more engineering than astrobotany.
7. consider the overlap between astrobotany and terra-forming other planets and the implications both disciplines have
Gardens on Mars, and spaceships with potatoes: where do we go from there? Growing terrestrial plants on other planets would be nearly impossible from what we gather, unless the planet had exactly the right conditions… which as far as we know, none do. Terra-forming (making a planet sustainable for human life) is a often a buzzword used by ambitious space pioneers, but is an almost unimaginable quest. Still, growing plants would be a critical part of planet terra-forming. This notion carries broader implications and raises several ethical questions, but is too far off to be earnestly considered. At least for now.