Growing peppers on the International Space Station is just the beginning of space agriculture

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The sensory experience of growing high-yield crops can also help alleviate the psychological effects of long-term space travel. A certain emotional connection with food does not come from a dehydrated space food storage room. Spencer said that the team opens the door of APH every day and observes their vegetable buddies with the gentleness of a family gardener. When the harvest day came, they lavished bounty around the International Space Station, taking selfies and admiring the fruit spinning around the spacecraft. Even when the heat of the first bite made them frown, the astronauts were still intoxicated with peppers, and they ate them with beef fajitas, rehydrated tomatoes, and artichokes.

“We think there is no heat, so [the peppers] It’s not very dangerous, but maybe an astronaut’s life needs a little spice,” said Paul Boslan, who was with his colleagues Chile Pepper Research Institute Española was genetically engineered to improve pepper seeds grown in Plant Habitat-04. (They are the new alien pride of New Mexico.)

In cooperation with NASA, Bosland has developed a variety that can not only meet the nutritional needs of astronauts, but also meet the logistical needs of growing plants in space. Bosland’s hybrids are designed with Mars in mind: they are bred to be early-maturing, compact, efficient in low light, flexible in low-pressure environments, and contain three times the vitamin C of oranges to prevent scurvy.

Every aspect of the plant growth cycle has been mechanized. The seeds are planted in a soilless arsenite clay medium with a specially developed fertilizer. Each quadrant is equipped with a salt-absorbing wick to prevent the seedlings from scorching due to the residual salt of the fertilizer. Once they sprout, the astronaut will sparse the plants until only four are left. More than 180 sensors control all aspects of their growth conditions, including adjusting the color of the lights to hinder their growth and keeping them at a controllable height of two feet.

Although the growing environment is highly controlled, microgravity affects plants in some unforeseen ways. Without gravity, the flowers and their pollen-filled stamens grow face up. Ironically, this hinders how APH should pollinate them by using a fan to pulse soft air to mobilize pollen, like a breeze. Instead, astronauts have to fill the vacancies like eliminated bees, artificially pollinating one plant at a time.

Microgravity also poses challenges for watering.As proved Canadian Space Agency, The behavior of water in microgravity is different from that on earth. Unable to descend, flow or ascend, the water will form a layer of water that wraps the surface of any object to which it is attached. But the viscous water can suffocate the roots of plants; as Bosland said, “Chili doesn’t like wet feet.”

This is one of the challenges that APH engineer and Kennedy Space Center research scientist Oscar Monje must solve. The system circulates water in a closed loop; the amount of water used in the entire experiment is roughly the same as that of the office water dispenser. The moisture sensor adjusts the exact amount attached to the root surface. Then, after the humidity sensor creates the arid environment that peppers crave, any water that the plant does not absorb will evaporate. This is not a technology to be launched on the moon or Mars. “The irrigation system used by APH is currently unsustainable for crop production. But it is sufficient for space biology experiments,” Monje said.

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