Antarctica Gardening Experiment Leading to Food Production In Space

Healthy soil consists of 45% minerals, 25% water, 25% air, and 5% organic matter. On Earth, soil has been an essential part of gardening for centuries. Now that technology has grown rapidly over the last few decades, there could soon be a day where gardening is done in space without soil.

According to Quartz, a group of German scientists stationed in Antarctica have successfully grown vegetables in environments without the use of soil or sunlight.

The scientists are pairing with the EDEN-ISS project and the German Aerospace Center to find creative new ways for cultivating food products in space. The gardening experiment took place inside a shipping container lab, simulating a space-like environment, specifically conditions similar to areas on the moon or Mars.

Instead of using soil, the researchers are using nutrient-rich water and optimized LED lights to mimic sun conditions and strengthen the vegetable roots.

“After sowing the seeds in mid-February, I had to deal with some unexpected problems, such as minor system failures and the strongest storm in more than a year, said Paul Zabel, an engineer working with the project. “Fortunately, all these things could be fixed and overcome.”

The German Aerospace Center even posted a Tweet online showcasing 17 healthy cucumbers that were the culmination of the soil-less planting experiment:

“New day, fresh harvest. The first cucumbers made in Antarctica from our space greenhouse EDEN-ISS.”

Additionally, the International Space Station (ISS) has been trying to farm and garden without sunlight or soil as well, successfully producing various types of lettuce on the actual space station.

“The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling, and psychological benefit,” added Gioia Massa of National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA). “I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario.”

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