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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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Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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