The University of Arizona

South Pole

The United States South Pole Station is located at the Geophysical South Pole, on the Antarctic Plateau at 9,300 feet (2835m). The equivalent pressure elevation, based on polar atmospheric conditions, will vary from 11,000-13,000 feet (3,300 to 4,000m), and the station rests on a moving sheet of ice almost 2 miles (3,000m) thick of ice. The recorded low temperature during the winter is -117 F, without wind chill, with an average temperature of -49.8C/-57.6F. South Pole Station has over 4 months of continuous sunshine, followed by 2 months of day and night, and then over 4 months of continuous darkness.

All material and personnel must be flown in during the Austral Summer season, with station personnel being isolated for over 8 months out of the year. The isolated personnel dine on frozen food stores that are flown in during the summer, and stockpiled. The one component of their diet that is not supplied, is the fresh salad crops, which are not able to be dried or frozen, and don’t have a long storage life. Since 1992, South Pole has had a volunteer operated growth chamber, to produce some salad crops, to supplement their diets. With the advent of the New South Pole Station, the National Science Foundation wanted a state-of-the-art growth chamber to be included in their new station.

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center was selected to produce this state-of-the-art growth chamber. Subcontracting to this effort was Sadler Machine Company, who was responsible for the original South Pole growth chamber, and who designed and fabricated the mechanical components for this chamber. The Chamber was completed and delivered to South Pole Station in February, 2004, and assembled by the
NSF’s civilian support contractor, Raytheon Polar Services Company. The South Pole Food Growth Chanber continues to improve crew well-being, nutrition and environment on the continent of Antarctica. 

The Growth Chamber, or Greenhouse as it is called by the crew, in addition to being a moist, bright environment, also serves as an intimate space for crewmembers to relax and meet among the aromatic plant life soon to be served at the dinner table. A sort of ‘offspring’ of the South Pole Food Growth Chamber, the Lunar Greenhouse Prototype is now operating too. Funded by the NASA’s Steckler Space Grant for advancing Space Colonization, further investigates bioregenerative life support for space applications and has much of the same technology used by the South Pole Food Growth Chamber. The Lunar Greenhouse demonstrates how a modular, lightweight growth chamber could be collapsed for launch via rocket and deployed on another world ( The Lunar Greenhouse ( is a test-bed for future plant growth systems used in life support on long-term peopled space missions. The South Pole Food Growth Chamber, like the Lunar Greenhouse, demonstrates that healthy environments can be incorporated in to our architecture regardless of where we might want to grow plants.