Plant pods offer a sustainable future for farming on Earth and beyond

Photo: NASA/Interstellar Lab
Extreme weather, coupled with land degradation, continues to impede the sustainability of agriculture across the planet. Scientists believe that the developing technologies meant for the harsh environments on Mars can also help make farming on Earth more sustainable.
Aside from the Moon, NASA is also planning to land humans on Mars by the 2030s and start the long-term colonization of the red planet. However, its extreme surface condition, such as its very cold and oxygen-depleted atmosphere, is a challenge future planet colonizers will be facing in the years to come.
In a bid to bring agriculture to Mars, an American startup has teamed up with NASA to create the Nutritional Closed-Loop Eco-Unit System (NUCLEUS). It is a set of nine cube capsules housing crops and insects designed to provide food for up to four astronauts for two years. Similar to indoor vertical farms here on Earth, it can produce fresh microgreens, vegetables, mushrooms, and edible insects.
Inside a NUCLEUS cube, crops are grown in a vertical system and nourished through nutrient-rich waters being delivered straight to their roots. Scientists consider it the only option for farming on Mars since the planet’s soil is also hostile to plants originating from Earth. Aside from soil considerations, the plant pods use significantly less water and fertilizer and with recycling in place, only make little waste, making it more resource efficient for space exploration.
The key to establishing a sustainable source of food on Mars is developing intensive, closed loops, and efficient food systems, and this entails that every method and input should be well thought of. According to food scientists, this is also a good thinking exercise for making farming sustainable on Earth.
As with other space-intended technologies developed in the past, space farming capsules can also benefit farmers on Earth amidst the growing hostile farming environments on the planet.

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