UA Engineers Build Lunar Vegetable Garden

Murat Kacira at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. (Photo credit: Norma Jean Gargasz / UANews)
Murat Kacira at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. (Photo credit: Norma Jean Gargasz / UANews)

The first extraterrestrials to inhabit the moon probably won't be little green men, but they could be little green plants. 
Researchers at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, known as CEAC, are demonstrating that plants from Earth could be grown hydroponically (without soil) on the moon or Mars, setting the table for astronauts who would find potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables awaiting their arrival.
The research team has built a prototype lunar greenhouse in the CEAC Extreme Climate Lab at UA's Campus Agricultural Center. It represents the last 18 feet of one of several tubular structures that would be part of a proposed lunar base. The tubes would be buried beneath the moon's surface to protect the plants and astronauts from deadly solar flares, micrometeorites and cosmic rays.
The membrane-covered module can be collapsed to a 4-foot-wide disk for interplanetary travel. It contains water-cooled sodium vapor lamps and long envelopes that would be loaded with seeds, ready to sprout hydroponically.
"We can deploy the module and have the water flowing to the lamps in just ten minutes," said Phil Sadler, president of Sadler Machine Co., which designed and built the lunar greenhouse. "About 30 days later, you have vegetables."
Standing beside the growth chamber, which was overflowing with greenery despite the windowless CEAC lab, principal investigator Gene Giacomelli said, "You can think of this as a robotic mechanism that is providing food, oxygen and fresh drinking water."
Giacomelli, CEAC director and a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, said that although this robot is built around living green plants--instead of the carbon fiber or steel usually associated with engineering devices--it still requires all the components common to any autonomous robotic system.

Date released: 
Oct 15 2010
Contact: 
Gene Giacomelli