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Microgreens Feeding Astronauts?

As a civilization, as we do more space exploration and dream of living on mars, it's becoming more apparent that we're going to need to learn not only how to provide sustinence for future astronauts and space travellers, but also find a way to grow food that is not dependant on being cultivated on Earth. So scientists and researchers are exploring if microgreens can be part of the answer!

Since microgreens is known as being nutrient dense and have a faster growth cycle compared to other vegetables, there's a hypothesis that microgreens might be able to provide the nutrients current astronauts quickly get depleted in. Right now, some of the astronauts are challenged with include "weight loss, hematological changes, and space radiation-induced oxidative cytotoxic stress, protein oxidation, increased muscle proteolysis, impairment of eye health and changes in the central nervous system" (Kyriacou et al. 2017). These challenges also lead to a lot of emotional and psychological problems for astronauts and researchers are hoping getting nutrients from plant sources instead of supplements will help create improvements (Kyriacou et al. 2017). Hopefully we can come together to find a solution that improves astronauts quality of life.

While there are clear benefits as to why microgreens are a starting place for finding ways to get nutrients for astronauts, growing in outer space come with unprecedented challenges. One of the main ones, lack of gravity and cosmic radiation. Now we're definitely not scientists but I could imagine the challenges that arise when trying to grow plants with minimal gravity. While there is some gravity contained on a spacecraft, the growing environment is very different from Earth. Scientists on Earth are simulating outer space environments to test what microgreens might be able viable.Because there are so many environmental differences on a spacecraft than Earth, a lot of research will have to go into how we can support plants through their life cycle.

Figuring out how to support microgreens plant life cycle on a spacecraft may take some time, but what makes it most encouraging is the one advantage microgreens have over other vegetable alternatives, the need for minimal power. Being energy efficient and reserving power on a spacecraft takes top priority (Kyriacou et al. 2017). Microgreens can currently thrive using LEDs, allowing for energy efficiency in their growth. Other vegetables need so much more energy and time to grow. Not all growing lights are the same and larger vegetables require a much more intensive solution.

Source: Kjell Lindgren (left) and Scott Kelly eat lettuce grown in the Veggie experiment during Expedition 44 in August 2015. Photo Credit: NASA

Whether it's future space expeditions or making nutrient dense foods more accessible to those who live in food deserts or dense urban cities, the potential is endless for microgreens and vertical farming! Did you know Elon Musk's brother runs an indoor vertical farm? I wonder Elon definitely has a master plan that fits in with his Space X vision!

Sources Kyriacou Marios C, Pascale Stefania De, Kyratzis Angelos, Rouphael Youssef. Microgreens as a Component of Space Life Support Systems: A Cornucopia of Functional Food. Front Plant Sci. 2017 Sep 12;8:1587, doi: 10.3389/fpls.2017.01587

Leahy, Bart. Space Insider. NASA Studying Farming in Space to Support Trip to Mars. Feb 17 2017. Accessed Oct 2 2022. Metelli Giulio, Di Sarcina Ilaria, Garegnani Marco, Ferrara Giuseppe, Cemmi Alessia, Nardi Luca, Eugenio Benvenuto.

Ground-based preliminary tests to simulate space microgravity and radiation effects on plants in the seed to seedling transition. ENEA - Italisan National Agency for New Technologies, Eneergy and Sustainable Economic Development. Italy.

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