Scientists have harvested their first crop of vegetables grown in an Antarctic greenhouse, a major step in cultivating fresh food on distant planets.
As part of the Eden ISS project, researchers have been trying to grow plants in the desolate region for several years.
Experts managed to grow a variety of vegetables to make an entire salad without the use of soil, daylight or pesticides.
The long-term aim is to help astronauts who venture off-world set up self sustaining colonies on Mars and elsewhere in deep space.
Researchers at Germany’s Neumayer Station III picked eight pounds (3.6 kilograms) of salad greens, 18 cucumbers and 70 radishes.
The food was grown inside a high-tech facility as temperatures outside dropped below -20°C (-4°F).
‘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,’ Paul Zabel, an engineer involved with the project, told Deutsche Welle.
‘Fortunately, all these things could be fixed and overcome.’
The German Aerospace Center (DLR), which coordinates the project, said that by May scientists hope to harvest 9 to 11 pounds (four or five kilograms) of fruit and vegetables a week.
The plants were grown using a reusable water cycle and a nutrient system, LED lighting and carefully monitored carbon dioxide levels to replicate natural conditions.
The progress and success of the study bodes well for applications on future space missions.
Currently, astronauts live off dehydrated packet food, which is ideal for the current duration of missions but this would be impossible for deep space exploration.
The vast volume and weight required to sustain the crew would cause an exponential increase in the amount of rocket-fuel needed, ruling it out as a source of nutrients for missions to Mars.
As a result, astronauts will be forced to grow their own food, or face starvation.
This is where Eden comes in, developing techniques and systems to make this possible in the most adverse conditions imaginable.
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