Scientist growing asparagus out of a meteor

As the colonization of outer space by the human race inches closer, the space industry is grappling with the thorny issue of how to feed future interplanetary residents. One astroecologist has been experimenting with growing plants in meteorite dust with some success. Professor Michael Mautner of Virginia Commonwealth University has been studying which crops function best when plopped in ground-up asteroid offshoots. The results, as you can probably imagine, depend from meteorite to meteorite.

"Carbonaceous asteroids can provide accessible in situ resources as they contain complex organic carbon, mineral plant nutrients and extractable water," says Professor Mautner. "A variety of soil bacteria, algae and asparagus (pictured) and potato tissue cultures grew well in these asteroid/meteorite soils and also in Martian meteorite soils."

There is, however, a caveat. As the scientist is using Earth's conditions to grow his veg and tubers, and outer-space cultivation would have to be anaerobic (without the presence of oxygen) the professor has a long way to go. And there's also the gravity issue.

NASA is already experimenting with growing fresh salads in space. If you saw Gravity you might remember the plants growing on the side of one of the spacecraft. In fact, the International Space Station has a Veggie, or Vegetable Production System, where they have grown crops such as mouse-ear cress.

Professor Mautner's eventual belief is that, as the Sun increases in size, planet Earth will become too hot for the human race and it will have to decamp to other worlds. To that end, he proposes loading the right plants onto rockets and sending them hurtling towards other planets in order to create mini ecosystems. "If we start to manage these plants and microbes, we could help secure life on other planets for perhaps millions or trillions of years."

VCU News, via VICE


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