Experiments Advance Gardening at Home and in Space
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- Aeroponics, the process of growing plants suspended in air without soil or media, provides clean, efficient, and rapid food production. Crops can be planted and harvested year-round without interruption, and without contamination from soil, pesticides, and residue. Aeroponic systems also reduce water usage by 98 percent, fertilizer usage by 60 percent, and eliminate pesticide usage altogether. Plants grown in aeroponic systems have been shown to absorb more minerals and vitamins, making the plants healthier and potentially more nutritious. The suspended system also has other advantages. Since the growing environment can be kept clean and sterile, the chances of spreading plant diseases and infections commonly found in soil and other growing media are greatly reduced. Also, seedlings do not stretch or wilt while their roots are forming, and once the roots are developed, the plants can be easily moved into any type of growing media without the risk of transplant shock. Lastly, plants tend to grow faster in a regulated aeroponic environment, and the subsequent ease of transplant to a natural medium means a higher annual crop yield. For example, tomatoes are traditionally started in pots and transplanted to the ground at least 28 days later; growers using an aeroponic system can transplant them just 10 days after starting the plants in the growing chamber. This accelerated cycle produces six tomato crops per year, rather than the traditional one to two crop cycles. These benefits, along with the great reduction in weight by eliminating soil and much of the water required for plant growth, illustrate why this technique has found such enthusiastic support from NASA. Successful long-term missions into deep space will require crews to grow some of their own food during flight. Aeroponic crops are also a potential source of fresh oxygen and clean drinking water, and every ounce of food produced and water conserved aboard a spacecraft reduces payload weight, decreasing launch costs and freeing room for other cargo.
- NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) Collection.
- Document ID: 20090002504. and Spinoff 2008: 50 Years of NASA-Derived Technologies (1958-2008); 94-95; NASA/NP-2008-OL-527-HQ.
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