1. Agriculture World

VSU Celebrates Launch of Chickpeas/Mini Greenhouse from NASA’s Flight Facility

Maximize productivity and efficient management of resources on future space colonies on the moon and Mars. Perfecting these techniques, part of a field called synthetic biology, could be essential to growing crops in a space station or on the moon and other planets.

Shivam Dwivedi
Picture of Mini- Greenhouse (Pic Credit- NASA)
Picture of Mini- Greenhouse (Pic Credit- NASA)

On Saturday, February 19, a mini greenhouse with chickpea seeds will be launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to the International Space Station to make sure this nutrient-packed plant-based food, the hero ingredient in hummus, can play a role in how we’ll eat-in space.

Since its beginnings in 1882, Virginia State University (VSU) has been on the cutting edge of developing new and sustainable agriculture solutions to ensure safe, nutritious food is always available. Its College of Agriculture is always looking for “what’s next” to meet the demands of growers and consumers alike.

And while their agricultural researchers are still working on resolving some of the more challenging growing problems that farmers face in Virginia- and the world- they’re already focused on researching growing techniques and resolving food science issues that will be important for the next frontier- space. Because as more people travel to space- or maybe even start living on other planets- they’re still going to need safe and nutritious food, just like they do on Earth.

Chickpeas-Best for Space Cultivation

Chickpeas are ideal for space cultivation consideration because they are fast-growing, high in nutrition, and have a short seed-to-seed cycle. The launch can be watched live from: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive.

And while inter-galactic farm-to-table dining is still far off, VSU’s College of Agriculture, whose campus is just minutes from the world’s largest hummus manufacturing facility in Chesterfield County, wants to know what other kind of food Americans will want on the menu in space.

VSU’s College of Agriculture has horticulturists already researching how to safely and efficiently grow food in controlled environments like the greenhouse heading to the space station, as well as in the soil-less hydroponic conditions that will be needed to produce food in space.

Meanwhile, VSU’s team of food scientists are currently researching ways to enhance food nutrition, shelf life, safety and more, factors just as critical in space as they are here on Earth. And to ensure the future success of growing food in new environments like space, VSU’s agriculture students are learning today the latest science and technology on how to safely expand the world’s food and fiber production for tomorrow.

How the Launch Will Work

Researchers from Stanford University and Aviv Labs are conducting groundbreaking experiments. Scientists on the ground and astronauts in the ISS will attempt to grow chickpeas in space. The mini-greenhouse (3”x3”x6”) contains chickpea seeds planted in a nutrient-filled gel tray.

The experiment will test hydroponic techniques for plant growth in zero gravity. Inside the greenhouse, tiny cameras will film the fledgling crop 24/7, allowing researchers on the ground and astronauts onboard the International Space Station to measure root growth and track progress through video and still images.

Using special LED lights, researchers will attempt to remotely control growth, accelerating or decelerating as needed. This critical component of the experiment will help future space agronomists align growth and nourishment with human nutritional needs in space.

Main Purpose:

Maximize productivity and efficient management of resources on future space colonies on the moon and Mars. Perfecting these techniques, part of a field called synthetic biology could be essential to growing crops in a space station or on the moon and other planets.

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