Space Farming and Sustainable Development: What do they have in common?

May 1st, 2024                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     (Image: Human Studio)Authors: Davi Souza
Space Farming and Sustainable Development: What do they have in common?
In the grand vision of exploring and inhabiting other planets, one crucial aspect often overlooked is the sustainability of extraterrestrial habitats. While the focus often lies on technological advancements and logistical challenges, the role of sustainable farming in achieving long-term human presence in space cannot be overstated. 
Approaching sustainability in space
In a previous post on Agritecture’s blog, I was able to discuss the holistic perspective of the future of farming, both on Earth and in space. In another article, many benefits related to space farming and its impacts on agriculture here on Earth were presented too. The technologies developed for cultivating plants in space have significant implications for sustainability efforts on Earth. Indeed, the benefits of space farming extend far beyond the confines of distant planets. With that in mind, NASA’s strategy for space sustainability aims to identify cost-effective ways to meet sustainability targets in four different scenarios: Earth, Earth orbit, the orbital area near and around the Moon (known as cislunar space), and deep space, including other celestial bodies, such as Mars.

Source: Human Studio
Technological Solutions for Space Farming
Let’s now enter the realm of space farming technologies: a burgeoning field dedicated to enabling plant growth in extraterrestrial environments. A recent article on LinkedIn presented how innovations in space farming are revolutionizing how we think about agriculture beyond Earth, employing a mix of advanced technologies and novel approaches to overcome the unique challenges posed by extreme environments. With advancements in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) and bioregenerative life support systems, astronauts and future space explorers envision sustaining themselves with fresh food while minimizing reliance on Earth-bound resources. From aeroponics to LED lighting, these innovative technologies are allowing plants to thrive in conditions vastly different from those on Earth. Among the players in the field, current efforts by NASA are focusing on the development of a prototype system to be deployed on the  International Space Station (ISS), targeting 2025. Named Ohalo III, the first operational crop production system and prototype for a Mars Transit Vehicle is being designed to continuously grow fresh food to add key nutrients and variety to the crew’s diet. The system will validate water delivery and volume optimization concepts applicable to deep space missions. Also, it will serve as a baseline to assess crop production hardware operational performance, reliability and identify future system requirements and risk/resource trades During an interview with NASA’s plant physiologist, Dr. Raymond Wheeler,  he highlights that when we get to the surface settings on the Moon and Mars, then we will be able to evolve to larger crop production systems.While Ohalo III is under development, NASA is also envisioning the first science instruments designed for astronauts to deploy on the surface of the Moon during Artemis III. The mission called Leaf-β, or Lunar Effects on Agricultural Flora Beta, is the result of a call made by the American space agency for instruments to conduct high-priority science investigations that can be uniquely accomplished by human deployment of payloads on the Lunar surface. The selected company was Space Lab, a small space business in Boulder, CO, that researches and develops technology for Earth-independent space habitation and exploration. The mission will investigate the lunar surface environment’s effects on space crops, and it will be the first experiment to observe plant photosynthesis, growth, and systemic stress responses in space radiation and partial gravity. Environmental parameters, plant growth, and development data will help scientists understand the use of plants grown on the Moon for both human nutrition and life support on the Moon and beyond.  Source: Space Lab.
How can this be useful for us on Earth?
As our planet grapples with environmental challenges such as climate change and resource depletion, the lessons learned from space exploration can inform a diverse range of sustainable and resource-efficient practices back home. A study from 2019 presented a novel perspective on “planetary sustainability” using space research to achieve worldwide sustainable development. After all, by optimizing resource use, reducing waste, and increasing food security, these technologies can revolutionize agriculture and mitigate the pressures on our planet’s ecosystems. This shows us the importance of finding ways to engage terrestrial agriculture with space farming and the opportunities associated with it.  Source: Galli, A., & Losch, A. (2019)
Space Farming: What is the ultimate goal?
In essence, the role of sustainability in space exploration missions transcends mere survival; it embodies our quest for resilience and harmony in the cosmos. By harnessing the power of innovative farming solutions, we pave the way for a future where humanity thrives not only on Earth but across the vast reaches of space. From the plant growth experiments in space to the most advanced space farming technologies at the ISS, we can realize that validating and fine-tuning CEA technologies is a mere preparatory step for long-term interplanetary sustainability, but an important one for terrestrial sustainability.That’s why I embarked together with the team of Agritecture on a journey towards showing the benefits of space farming for farmers on Earth. Our goal is to make accessible the years of knowledge that allowed human beings to effectively grow plants outside our planet. With that, if you want to know more about the technologies that are making this possible, and their applications in the CEA sector, I invite you to check out the Space Farming 101 online course.
The course is available on premium content at the Agritecture Designer platform and you can access it with a 10% discount using the code ‘Space10’ until the end of this month.Read MoreUrban Agriculture Blog Feed

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