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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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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