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NASA's Contributions to Controlled Environment AgricultureIt may come as a surprise, but NASA has been a long-standing sponsor of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) research. This is based on the potential for using plants (crops) for life support systems in space. Through photosynthesis, crops could produce food and oxygen for humans, while removing CO2. In addition, plant transpiration could help purify waste water. NASAs interest in bioregenerative life support dates back to the late 1950s. At that time, much of the testing focused on algae, but over the years moved toward higher plants as CEA techniques improved. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, extensive testing was carried out at different universities to gather horticultural data for a range of crops, including wheat, soybean, lettuce, potato, sweet potato, cowpea, rice and more. These studies examined different electric light sources, mineral nutrition, recirculating hydroponics, effects of CO2, temperature, photosynthetic photon flux (PPF), and photoperiod on the crops, and identified cultivars that would be useful for space. Findings from these studies were then used to conduct large scale (20 sq m), closed atmosphere tests at Kennedy Space Center, and later at NASA Johnson Space Center, where plant growth chambers were linked to human habitats. Results showed that with high light input and careful horticultural management, about 20-25 sq m of crops under continuous cultivation could produce the O2 for one person, and about 40-50 sq m could produce enough dietary calories. The ability to sustain these production levels and accurately assess system costs and failures needs further study. In all likelihood, the use of plants for life support will evolve, where for early missions like the International Space Station, crops will be grown in small chambers to provide supplemental fresh foods. As mission durations and distances increase, the systems could expand to assume more of the life support burden. But the constraints of space travel require that these approaches be efficient in terms of mass, volume, and energy, which are similar to challenges facing terrestrial CEA, such as vertical agriculture systems.
Document ID
20160013269
Document Type
Presentation
Authors
Wheeler, Raymond M. (NASA Kennedy Space Center Cocoa Beach, FL United States)
Date Acquired
November 4, 2016
Publication Date
October 1, 2016
Subject Category
Life Sciences (General)
Report/Patent Number
KSC-E-DAA-TN36424
Meeting Information
Purdue University Department of Horticulture Seminar(West Lafayette, IN)
Distribution Limits
Public
Copyright
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
Keywords
Bioregenerative

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