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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Face In The Mirror: Dutch Hairdressers Trained To Recognize Domestic Violence

Early detection and accessible help are essential in the fight against domestic violence. Hairdressers in the Dutch province of North Brabant are now being trained to identify when their customers are facing abuse at home.

Hair Salon Rob Peetoom in Rotterdam

Daphne van Paassen

TILBURG — The three hairdressers in the bare training room of the hairdressing company John Beerens Hair Studio are absolutely sure: they have never seen signs of domestic violence among their customers in this city in the Netherlands. "Or is that naïve?"

When, a moment later, statistics appear on the screen — one in 20 adults deals with domestic violence, as well as one or two children per class — they realize: this happens so often, they must have victims in their chairs.

All three have been in the business for years and have a loyal clientele. Sometimes they have customers crying in the chair because of a divorce. According to Irma Geraerts, 45, who has her own salon in Reusel, a village in the North Brabant region, they're part-time psychologists. "A therapist whose hair I cut explained to me that we have an advantage because we touch people. We are literally close. The fact that we stand behind people and make eye contact via the mirror also helps."

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