Several factors – including and especially the ever-increasing threat of climate change – have significantly affected the way we farm and operate in the agricultural industry.
Farmers have been forced to find new ways to keep up with their production of several crops, while governments have also been forced to fund relief initiatives to help improve viability. However, it is possible that the next frontier for the industry could be way above our heads – literally.
Space-grown lettuce could soon be a thing, after astronauts confirmed that there were no dangers in consuming these crops, KSI reports. New research published in the Frontiers of Plant Science journal explains that besides being safe to eat, space-grown lettuce is just as tasty as it is on Earth.
Romaine Lettuce is A-OK
The news medium explained that researchers had been running experiments on growing red romaine lettuce as far back in 2014. This was done using the Vegetable Production Systems growth chamber delivered to the International Space Station. The results of the experiment were preserved and sent to the Kennedy Space Center, and tests showed that the lettuce was safe for consumption.
Since then, more lettuce has been grown on the Space Station, and further experiments have now confirmed that they’re as safe and disease-free as the lettuce grown back home.
Christina Khodadad, an author of the study and a researcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, explained,
“We were delightfully surprised at how much the astronauts enjoyed growing and eating the fresh lettuce! The ability to grow food in a sustainable system that is safe for crew consumption will become critical as NASA moves toward longer missions. Salad-type, leafy greens can be grown and consumed fresh with few resources.”
While the progress shows that NASA will now be able to grow crops in space, it also presents many more opportunities. A more robust crop production scheme could help top save funds on feeding and supplies, and if researchers can grow more plants in space at scale, they could perhaps send more back to Earth to solve the issue of global production shortages.
Space Could be the World’s Next Agricultural Frontier
As for the prospects of growing even more crops, Khodadad explained to Astronomy that the process would be a tad more complicated than for lettuce.
“Tomatoes and peppers, which we hope to grow this year and next, will need similar growing conditions,” she said, adding that since crops like these take longer to grow, the process to cultivate them will be more resource- and time-intensive.
It’s worth noting that NASA isn’t the only organization that is flirting with the prospect of growing consumer products in space. Back in 2017, Anheuser-Busch, the parent company of Budweiser, began sending barley seeds to the Space Station.
According to a report from the Economic Times, the firm partnered with Elon Musk’s SpaceX on the initiative, which will form part of its mission to be the first beer brand to brew a keg of beer on Mars.
The news report explained that the supply of barley seeds was Anheuser’s way of gaining more insight into the malting process, where raw barley grains are converted into malt through controlled germination.
Last year, an article on Green Biz confirmed that climate change has caused the global agricultural output to plummet, citing a research effort conducted by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.
As countries continue to grapple with these issues, space could turn out to be the planet’s saving grace.