Plants in Space Have Down to Earth Applications

ambria smallBy Ambria Small, Plant Health Management major

Agriculture has made leaps and bounds over the past few thousand years. From domestication to genetic modification, from weed management to drones scouting for apple scab, the boundaries of agriculture has never been so broad. Now, food-production systems are meeting a new frontier. The private spaceflight company, SpaceX, launched their Dragon capsule in April. Within it is a very special project that they call “Veggie” containing living “Outredgeous” lettuce plants.

The “Veggie”, or Veg-01, is not the first of its kind. The Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems, partnered with Utah State University, has had Lada (their miniature greenhouse) in orbit since 2002. Since its start, Lada has proven species of peas, lettuce, and wheat safe to eat. Why is this important?

Eventually, manned space missions will get longer, and astronauts will need to become self-dependent. SpaceX is initiating plans to have a space colony on Mars in the 2030’s, and within the blueprints are greenhouse units. As well as improving conditions in space, the research can have massive impacts for agriculture on Earth.

plants on international space stationBy 2050, the human population is projected to be 9 billion strong, which will demand a 70% more food. The research done on plant water and nutrient use efficiency will improve land use efficiency back on Earth. Questions regarding crops plants’ most basic needs will be answered by taking plants into an environment where we can only afford to give them the basics.

I’m a senior at OSU,  majoring in Plant Health Management, and representing the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Global issues of hunger can be solved through the space programs, by focusing research on plant-microbe symbiosis, efficient water and nutrient application, and applying new technology such as transgenics. Agriculture has the impossible task of more than doubling its output in a world of limited supplies, and I hope to aid in this goal.

Veggie Plant Growth System on the International Space Station > More info

This blog post was an assignment for  Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor

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