back to article What vegetables are best for growing in Spaaace?

It's a question that must have vexed many space-loving gardeners over the years: Just what kinds of vegetables are most suitable for growing in space or at far-flung bases on alien worlds? Now, that question has a definitive answer. At a conference in America*, scientists have announced their top 10 plants, chosen for such …

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  1. Simon Waddington

    Silent Running

    Maybe they'll get Huey, Dewey, and Louie style robots to do the gardening for them?

    1. Mondo the Magnificent

      Wabbitz!

      Hopefully they'll introduce some rabbits too, as a man cannot survive on vegetables alone.. well I can't before some smart ass herbivore human comments that "they can"

      1. Marky W
        Stop

        Noooo, not rabbit

        Eating only rabbit will kill you! According to Wiki, Rabbit Starvation is 'a form of acute malnutrition caused by excess consumption of any lean meat (e.g., rabbit)'.

        Miniature pigs are the only answer. Plus, bacon.

        1. Refugee from Windows
          Alert

          Pigs in Space?

          You ask, what about the smell? Pigs'll get used to it.

      2. Jan 0

        Supplying a title is left as an exercise.....

        You may want to eat wabbitz, but I'd wager that for a large reward, you'd grudgingly eat nothing but masala dal for a year*.

        *I'll allow a sprinkling of greens on it so the scurvy doesn't get too bad.

        Since the reward is large, you get no choice of diet.

      3. JEDIDIAH
        Linux

        Wabits!

        I'm surprised that soybeans didn't end up on this list. In the absence of beans & rice or some dairy cows they need to have some good source of protein. You can only live off of a diet of potatoes, cabbage and cottage cheese only if you have the dairy cows.

  2. Mos Eisley Spaceport
    Flame

    Space core directive # 24345N

    Cabbage shall be banned in an enclosed capsule or small space craft.

    1. paulc
      FAIL

      Space Corps, not Space Core...

      n/t

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Space Corps, not Space Core

        No, he got it right.

        This *is* Rimmer he is "quoting", after all.

        That's the sort of screw-up that git would make.

        (next season guys, any time now <tap_foot/>)

      2. Michael Hoffmann
        Trollface

        Nope

        If it yells "spaaace" repeatedly (optionally preceded by "I'm in...") then it's definitely the Core.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Real men need BBQs

    So that's cows and enough trees to grow your own charcoal ( & enough oxygen to burn it)

    Still plenty of manure for the vegs.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Pigs. In. Spaaace.

    They'll eat anything, too. Oh, they need something to eat too? Well then, maybe we'll just gengineer food tube trees and pill shrubs. Grey goo algae? A fully automatic slop machine? No? No wisdom in sf, I tells you. Someone tell NASA.

    The, uhm, the battlestar jacket today, yes.

  5. Yag

    Onions, tomatoes, bell pepper...

    Piperade time!

  6. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Space food.

    To be fair, the food the rest of us eat now (frozen microwave curry) is hardly on a par with what it was when Yuri Gagarin went into space.

    As far as bioregeneration goes, I'd have thought that a tank that processes human waste and turns it into food using a collection of microbes would be a lot easier to implement. The microbes could be selected to also remove CO2 from the air, produce O2, and hopefully not produce too many other gasses.

    Of course adding in some yeast to provide alcohol wouldn't go a miss too.

    1. Yag
      Coat

      heh.

      Not everyone eat the same things as a bachelor from Bristol...

      Mine is the one with "cooking for dummies" in the pocket

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Boffin

      @BristoBachelor

      "As far as bioregeneration goes, I'd have thought that a tank that processes human waste and turns it into food using a collection of microbes would be a lot easier to implement."

      It's referred to as a "Yogurt box" system by ECLSS types.

  7. hpwb
    Pint

    required title is required

    Surely a spacecraft can pick up pre-launched supply canisters while en-route to Mars? Getting a string of supply between Earth-Mars shouldn't be too costly since these would not need to protect humans from high g-forces or carry life-support equipment. Launch a few dozen into space, stick a solar panel on 'em for a simple radio beacon and the cost of feeding astronauts would drop, no need to bring it all in one go.

    Having said that, tending to some veggies and plants would surely break the monotony of such a long voyage. Now the question becomes can they grow hop and barley and make the first space brew?

    1. auburnman

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      The supply canisters idea is nice in theory, but would likely mean increased fuel needs for the people carrier ship; even if you lined up a dozen supply containers as perfectly as you could between here and Mars there would be some manuevering involved to collect these. A dozen deceleration/accelerations between here and Mars would eat petrol too - traffic lights in space! That's before we get to the issue of finding astronauts who are willing to go on a mission where a failed rendezvous with a supply pod means starving to death.

    2. Jan 0

      This is not a title.

      Since the canisters would have to be travelllng at the same velocity as the space ship at the time of capture, then it would be simplest to launch them at the same time as the spaceship. How is this better than a larger spaceship, or a smaller one with a sustainable food supply?

    3. TeeCee Gold badge
      Facepalm

      @hpwb

      You mean like the prepared supply dumps used by Robert Falcon Scott during his trek to the South Pole?

      As I recall that didn't go well for him.....

  8. 100113.1537

    Spuds in space...

    Actually, back in the 80's NASA funded actual work on this which showed a 25 sqm plot of potatoes could supply an astronaut's energy needs indefinitely. This was experimental work not modelling. Published in the American Journal of Potato Research Volume 64, Number 6, 311-320.

    I can see why they might want a few other veggies though as you might get a bit bored just eating spuds, but they would only be for flavour.

    1. Alan 6 Silver badge

      American Volume of Potato research

      The American Volume of Potato Research stretches to 64 volumes.

      Where exactly in this enormous tome does it cover the crime that is McDonald's "Fries"

      1. Jason 24
        Joke

        Apparently..

        We're up to volume 88;

        http://ingentaan.cjb.net/content/klu/12230;jsessionid=1uu14ld13i8iw.alexandra

  9. Graham Bartlett

    Hmm, OK

    Sounds OK for flavour. Stash a few steaks as treats for special occasions, and that'd work.

    Trouble is, how does it square with human dietary requirements? It's all very well to say "these grow OK with not much room", but there's plenty of other plants manage that.

    There's also a problem of processing. (I'd say "cooking", but I've no idea whether what would happen up there would look like a kitchen.) For veggies, getting significant amounts of nutrients out of them typically needs the application of heat/pressure to break down cells, otherwise it mostly goes through you unprocessed. So your solar-panel power budget for the ship doesn't just need to include life support, it also needs to factor in a few kW for cooking. (Probably a microwave, I guess.) And then life support needs to be uprated by another few kW to cool the living area.

    So this all needs space and power. 6 people's grub to/from Mars weighs in at 18 tonnes, according to these boffins. That's the same weight as the Zvezda module. Check the size of Zvezda - it's unlike that module would be big enough for a working hydroponic farm to feed 6 people. So for Mars at least, you're better going up there with a stash of food.

    One other problem avoided by the Stash'o'Food idea is the possibility that stuff doesn't grow, or that you've accidentally brought some contaminant onboard which affects/infects your plants. "The insect tapes" (Michael Scott Rohan, Google says) is a neat little short story on that theme. More prosaicly, one of the reasons Mir was ditched was that a fungus was steadily eating its way through steel, plastic, electrical insulation and the rest.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cooking. In. Spaaace.

      I'm not an engineer but at a guess the bulk of the power requirements for cooking is raising the temperature of the water involved. There is a reason it works so well as a coolant. So if you want to save there you could try and use any heat already available. Like, oh, a small nuclear powerplant, or maybe it'd make sense to add a couple water heating panels next to the 'leccy generators, or integrate them or something. Then add that freshly heated water to dehydrated foodstuffs. Even foodstuffs grown in space, as dehydration is easy with all that vacuum around, though hopefully you can easily recover the water for re-use. It's rather backwards to how we usually do these things, but there you go.

  10. Pete 2 Silver badge

    fresh herbs?

    So would they be including "recreational herbs" in the garden, too?

    1. Disco-Legend-Zeke
      Pint

      Hemp...

      ...is apparently a very efficient oxygen separator, and i hear its the highest oil/acre of the annuals.

      Certified non-recreational cannabis seed is available in several states.

      So you will have to sew some sow stash into your skivvies prior to ascent.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      @Pete 2

      "So would they be including "recreational herbs" in the garden, too?"

      Possibly.

      In space.....

      No one can run a urine test on you.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Monsanto?

    How will you ship the seeds to them every year, because there is no way in hell that Monsanto would send non-sterile seeds. It would affect their profit margin!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Carrots...

    You can eat carrots a la Bugs Bunny, straight and raw. Just peel them. Shouldn't be hard to sterilize them when they were grown on hydroponics...

    ....but I would smuggle my weight in beef jerky, just in case.

    Eh, what's up doc?

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    They might start with finding a way to recycle Carbon Dioxide

    Currently this is absorbed onto molecular sieves and then vented to vacuum, where the CO2 sublimes off. Even that is an *improvement* on the 1 use Lithium Hydroxide canisters of the type featured memorably on Apollo 13.

    Leaving yet *another* load of O2 to be carted up Earth gravity well. BTW O2 is *denser* than water.

    Roughly speaking of the 5Kg of supplies of food and water NASA reckoned a person would need c0.5Kg is actual *food* the rest is water and Oxygen. They seem to be getting a better at the water side but O2 recovery seems as far away as ever. It's *very* unlikely that they will use fuel cells that make water on a mars trip.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Joe Zeff
    Thumb Up

    You need some grain or other starrches too.

    You need to include some wheat, oats, corn or other grain to give them the calories they need. And, I'd suggest chickens as part of the livestock. That way you can have bacon and eggs in the morning. Still, what they're suggesting now is a lot better than the tanks of algae you used to find in SF books.

    1. annodomini2
      FAIL

      Hmmm...

      Which animal does bacon come from???

  15. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    mass?

    erm... I don't think growing stuff helps with the problem of each 'naut requiring three tons of grub for the trip to Mars.

    The mass of the grown veg has to come from somewhere, it isn't "created".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      it isn't "created"

      it's "converted" - plants use solar energy, CO2 and other nutrients to grow, that very same CO2 and other nutrients that the astronauts excrete.

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Shit,

      I think you've you forgotten something.

  16. jubtastic1
    Flame

    Wouldn't it be cheaper

    To send up astronauts made of meat?

    "Mission control, we just lost Dave, got himself locked in the oven like Frank did last week, also we're running low on BBQ sauce"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Devil

      If you don't have BBQ sauce...

      I hear fava beans and a nice chianti do pretty well!!

  17. Bounty

    almost

    So we need 14,000 pounds of earth and water instead of 7,000 pounds of food per person. Well and some extra weight for the energy generation (panels, RTG whatever) to make light for the plants. Seems the farming thing might work out at some point though, perhaps if they were going to be away 3x as long?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      re: make light for the plants

      What's wrong with sunlight?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Manned Mars Missions as daft as the ISS

    What did the International Space Waste -er Station- cost? And what did we gain? Go on, what did we gain?

    It's likely too that the Saturn V could have done most of the real work, like getting comms & weather satellites etc into orbit. Far cheaper and likely sooner than the Shuttle.

    America & Russia have just pissed away time and money for 16 years. The first exoplanet was found in Jan/Feb 2005. We should immediately have changed direction. We could have had a second Hubble, plus a third to get a usable huge virtual aperture; we could have had the James Webb space telescope sooner; we could have designed a probe to Europa, to trail a wire antenna as it melted its way to the bottom of the water-ice and found - fairly surely - exolife.

    And now we're talking of wasting trillions more to send men to Mars. WHY? We already know a great deal about it, and probes could much sooner find answers to many questions.

    Or is it that lots of Americans (and not a few elsewhere) don't want us to find exolife, because that's God's domain?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Vegetables in space? ummm... why?

    I mean, who's going to eat them?

  20. Murray Fraser
    WTF?

    Gravity

    How do the vegetables know which way so send roots and shoots without gravity. Will the carrots grow upside down and sideways?

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Previous experiments

      Previous experiments have looked at this in microgravity. If you go to the UK Space museum in Leicester you can even see some of the early kit. Basically you put it on a frame and spin it slowly. Otherwise yes, the plants end up looking like the cables in your switch rack.

      However if you don't care what your food looks like (or are already used to eating quorn), then organisms that don't have roots and leaves would seem better. Just pump them through transparent pipes and give them sunlight.

  21. mhenriday
    Facepalm

    Pity that the so-called Mars 500 mission

    (http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Mars500/SEM7W9XX3RF_0.html) - a joint project among Russia, China, and ESA in which six men have been sealed into an isolation chamber during a period of 520 at the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow in order to simulate a mission to Mars - chose not to address this problem. Instead, all the food the participants eat during the experiment has been pre-packaged, as if it could be taken from Earth in a realistic Mars-expedition scenario (to the degree that any Mars mission can be considered realistic). To my mind, this unfortunate and hard-to-understand miss is likely to invalidate many of the results that this costly experiment will present....

    Henri

  22. Cameron Colley

    I wonder if they'll find a Wub or two to eat.

    Apparently the taste is unforgettable...

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