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LA STAMPA

Moon Salad? Scientists Move Closer To Making Space Farming A Reality

The possibility is still a ways off, but scientists down here on Earth are already trying to figure out how to grow plants up there – in space. Future missions to Mars or the Moon would benefit greatly, they say, from a bit of healthy roughage.

An artist's conception of a Mars space colony (Wikipedia/NASA)
An artist's conception of a Mars space colony (Wikipedia/NASA)
Valentina Arcovio

FLORENCE -- In the future, a typical lunch menu might consist of star-ripened seaweed salad, Moon-harvested seaweed soup, and Mars-grown seaweed pie. The ingredients might be slightly boring, but when it comes to their origin labels, they'll be quite literally out of the world.

It may sound like science fiction, but growing space plants is closer to reality than most people think. For years now, teams of researchers have been exploring the possibility of future space farming. Late last month in Florence, the Accademia dei Gergofili, an Italian academy devoted to studying and protecting the rural world, hosted a series of talks on just that possibility. Participants envisioned reaching the goal by the end of the third millennium.

"Interest in growing and developing plants in space has risen alongside interest in carrying out long-term space missions," said Stefano Mancuso, director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology. For now, most discussions center around using plants on such missions to fix the level of carbon dioxide, generate oxygen, purify water and produce food, according to Mancuso.

Tossing a Martian salad

More optimistic researchers are looking at space farming as part of a long-term goal of colonizing the Moon or Mars. They want to create a new home for the human race that will be ready once Earth becomes too small to host everyone. Many studies and experiments have already been done.

"In recent years, scientists have focused on studying the effect gravity variation has on the physiology of plants," said Mancuso. "In order to reach this goal, the European Space Agency (ESA), for example, has provided researchers with the access to the International Space Station." Their experiments have shown that plants, particularly if they are exposed step-by-step to different gravity levels, are extraordinarily adaptable. "Recently, we were able to confirm this hypothesis by using ESA's large diameter centrifuge," said Manusco.

Plants are a perfect example of how a terrestrial body can adapt to extraterrestrial conditions. In its laboratories in Turin, Italy, Thales Alenia Space, a leading European satellite systems company, has designed a mini space greenhouse called Eden. There, researchers were able to grow small lettuce plants in simulated Martian soil. One day, our great-great-grandchildren may eat such lettuce at a permanent base on the Red Planet.

From a psychological standpoint, passengers would do well to grow plants during the long voyage to Mars as well. "Research shows that plants have a relaxing impact on people's mood, which is important on very long missions," said Mancuso.

Indeed, a small splash of green from planet Earth could be just the thing to spruce up an otherwise cold and sterile spacecraft.

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

Photo - Wikipedia/NASA

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine Is Turning Into A "New Israel" — Where Everyone Is A Soldier

From businessmen to farmers, Ukrainian society has been militarizing for the past six months to defend its sovereignty. In the future it may find itself like Israel, permanently armed to protect its sovereignty.

Ukrainian civilians learn how to shoot and other military skills at a shooting range in Lviv on July 30, 2022.

Guillaume Ptak

KYIV — The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point. Vladimir Putin's army has suffered its worst setback since the beginning of the invasion. The Russian army has experienced a counter-offensive that many experts consider masterful, so it must retreat and cede vast territories to its opponent.

The lightning victory that the head of the Kremlin had dreamed of never took place. The losses are considerable — Ukrainian troops on the battlefield now outnumber the Russians.

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On April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted that at the end of the conflict, Ukraine would become a "big Israel". In an interview with Ukrainian media, he said then, "In all the institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, there will be people with weapons."

The problem of national security will be the country's most important one in the next decade. An "absolutely liberal, and European" society would therefore no longer be on the agenda, according to the Ukrainian president.

Having long since swapped his suit and tie for a jacket or a khaki T-shirt during his public appearances, Zelensky has undeniably become one of the symbols of this growing militarization of Ukrainian society. However, the president claimed that Ukraine would not become an "authoritarian" regime: "An authoritarian state would lose to Russia. Ukrainians know what they are fighting for."

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