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Space jam: ISS astronauts set to taste ‘outredgeous’ food grown in space

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly

 

Washington: In a pioneering feat that will help astronauts on long-duration space missions like Mars, the crew members on board the International Space Station (ISS) are set to eat fresh food grown in the microgravity environment of space for the first time.

Expedition 44 crew members, including NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, are ready to sample the fruits of their labor after harvesting a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the “veggie plant” growth system on the orbiting laboratory.

The astronauts will clean the leafy greens with citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes before consuming them.

They will eat half of the space bounty, setting aside the other half to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis.

Fresh foods such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants.

“Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people’s moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space,” said Dr Ray Wheeler, head of advanced life support activities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

NASA’s plant experiment, called Veg-01, is being used to study the in-orbit function and performance of the plant growth facility and its rooting “pillows” which contain the seeds.

The first “pillows” were activated, watered and cared for by Expedition 39 flight engineer Steve Swanson in May 2014.

After 33 days of growth, the plants were harvested and returned to Earth in October 2014.

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the plants underwent food safety analysis.

The second “Veg-01 plant pillows” were activated by Kelly on July 8 and grew again for 33 days before being harvested.

The seeds had been on the station for 15 months before being activated.

The veggie unit features a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation.

“Using LED lights to grow plants was an idea that originated with NASA as far back as the late 1990s,” Dr Wheeler noted.

The purple/pinkish hue surrounding the plants is the result of a combination of the red and blue lights which by design emit more light than the green LEDs.

Green LEDS were added so the plants look like edible food rather than weird purple plants.

Besides the nutritional benefits, growing fresh produce in space may also provide a psychological benefit to astronauts.

The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits.

“I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario,” informed Dr Gioia Massa, payload scientist for Veggie system at Kennedy.

The Veggie unit can also be used by astronauts for recreational gardening activities during deeper space missions.

(IANS)

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NASA Explore Technology To Build Future Homes Made of Fungi For Moon, Mars

Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat

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NASA
Keeping that in mind, the myco-architecture project out of NASA Ames Research Center in California is prototyping technologies that could "grow" habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond out of life - specifically, fungi and the unseen underground threads that make up the main part of the fungus, known as mycelia. Pixabay

Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well.

Creating a livable home for future astronauts means doing more than growing a roof to go over their heads. Astronauts will need to have all their basic needs met, just like on Earth, and face the additional challenges of living in a harsh environment on a distant world, the US space agency said in a statement.

Keeping that in mind, the myco-architecture project out of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California is prototyping technologies that could “grow” habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond out of life – specifically, fungi and the unseen underground threads that make up the main part of the fungus, known as mycelia.

“Right now, traditional habitat designs for Mars are like a turtle – carrying our homes with us on our backs – a reliable plan, but with huge energy costs,” said Lynn Rothschild, the principal investigator on the early-stage project.

“Instead, we can harness mycelia (vegetative part of a fungus) to grow these habitats ourselves when we get there”. Ultimately, the project envisions a future where human explorers can bring a compact habitat built out of a lightweight material with dormant fungi that will last on long journeys to places like Mars.

Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat – all while being safely contained within the habitat to avoid contaminating the Martian environment.

Mycelia are tiny threads that build complex structures with extreme precision, networking out into larger structures like mushrooms.
With the right conditions, they can be coaxed into making new structures – ranging from a material similar to leather to the building blocks for a Mars habitat.

NASA
Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well. Pixabay

That last layer of mycelia is what organically grows into a sturdy home, first activated to grow in a contained environment and then baked to kill the lifeforms – providing structural integrity and ensuring no life contaminates Mars and any microbial life that’s already there. Even if some mycelia somehow escaped, they will be genetically altered to be incapable of surviving outside the habitat, said NASA.

Mycelia could also be used for water filtration and biomining systems that can extract minerals from wastewater – another project active in Rothschild’s lab – as well as bioluminescent lighting, humidity regulation and even self-generating habitats capable of healing themselves. And with about 40% of carbon emissions on Earth coming from construction, there’s an ever-increasing need for sustainable and affordable housing here as well.

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The harsh environments of the Moon and Mars will require new ways of living – growing homes instead of building them, mining minerals from sewage instead of rock. “But by turning to the elegant systems of our own natural world, we can design solutions that are green and sustainable. Whether on distant worlds or our own ever-changing Earth, fungi could be what brings us boldly into the future,” said NASA. (IANS)