Menus from Mars

Scientists are busy developing recipes that can be prepared on long voyages to far-off planets. These dishes really will be out of this world—all the ingredients will be grown in space!

Until now, astronauts have loaded aboard their spacecraft everything that they might need, including enough “Earth food” to last for their entire trip. Those yucky tubes of liquid meals that fed our first space travelers are history. Today's astronauts choose carefully from a menu of more than a hundred varieties of dried meals to take along. By injecting hot water into the special packages, they can produce delicious food in space. But the astronauts must bring just enough. There is no room for extras or leftovers aboard a spacecraft.

Packing food for a mission of several days or several weeks is one thing. Stocking up for a trip to Mars is quite another. One round trip will take four years. Astronauts with their sights set on long-distance space exploration and colonization will have no choice—they will have to grow their own food along the way.

If space farming seems unusual to you, it will be even more unusual for the “astroplants” that will accompany space missions in the future. These plants will have to grow without dirt, sunlight, or gravity. And nothing will be wasted. In specially designed growth chambers aboard the spacecraft or in inflatable greenhouses on Mars, special lamps will provide just the right artificial light for plants to grow, using recycled nutrients and water. The search for types of wheat, potatoes, rice, soybeans, and lettuce that can thrive under space farm conditions is on. Only small plants that grow very fast and produce a variety of edible and delicious parts need apply for future missions.

Space farming will be more and more important the farther we go as we explore the universe. Because the choice of ingredients will be limited, each spacecraft will carry a cookbook of imaginative recipes. As the view of our planet grows smaller in the distance, certain reminders of Earth food aboard will become more and more treasured—small stashes of cheese, coffee, and chocolate. And a few Mars bars, perhaps?

Vocabulary

astronaut:
A person trained to travel in a spacecraft or to work in outer space.
colonization:
The act of founding a settlement.
gravity:
A force that pulls objects toward each other.
nutrient:
A substance that living things need in order to survive and grow.

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Activity

  1. How will plants grown on spacecraft meet their needs?
    Answer: The plants will receive artificial light, recycled nutrients, and recycled water.
  2. What will the plants not receive in space?
    Answer: The plants will not receive dirt, sunlight, or gravity.
  3. Why is gravity important for a plant?
    Answer: Answers may vary but could include that gravity might affect how well different kinds of plants, like fruit-bearing plants, grow.

Activity

  1. How will plants grown on spacecraft meet their needs?
    Answer: The plants will receive artificial light, recycled nutrients, and recycled water.
  2. What will the plants not receive in space?
    Answer: The plants will not receive dirt, sunlight, or gravity.
  3. Why is gravity important for a plant?
    Answer: Answers may vary but could include that gravity might affect how well different kinds of plants, like fruit-bearing plants, grow.