If we ever want to put down roots beyond our home planet, we will need a way to grow food out there. Pre-packaged meals will only get us so far. The EDEN ISS project has set out on a four-year mission dedicated to plant cultivation on the International Space Station. Its work could help to remove one of the barriers standing between us and thriving colonies on Mars.
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Only a few decades ago, the prospect of human settlements in space might have sounded like pie in the sky. But with the International Space Station (ISS), Earthlings have already established a presence off-planet, and others will follow — as will manned exploratory flights that would benefit from the ability to supplement their rations.
Space gardening could not only help to keep crews fed, healthy and happy; it could also play a role in recycling water and waste, and in keeping the air breathable. Other possible benefits include cost reductions, as sending food into space is expensive.
The partners involved in EDEN ISS are striving to tap into this potential. They are developing technologies and processes for the safe cultivation of plants on the ISS, along with a mobile testing facility that will enable them to validate their approach during a one-year trial in Antarctica.
Getting space farming off the ground is an interdisciplinary challenge, and consequently the EDEN ISS consortium mobilises a wide range of expertise. It is an alliance of partners from academia and industry, where universities, research institutes, and companies large and small contribute know-how in areas as varied as food science, horticulture, microbiology and space engineering. Their joint enterprise is not just of interest for applications in space: it could also advance resource-efficient farming right here, in our increasingly crowded planetary home.
Read more in Horizon magazine