UA Greenhouse Out of This World

A peek inside the University of Arizona Lunar Greenhouse Teaching Module reveals rows of leafy greens growing from plastic envelopes attached to cables. This greenhouse is a teaching module that will travel the country, introducing the public to the concept of greenhouses in space. (Photo by Randy Bowen)
A peek inside the University of Arizona Lunar Greenhouse Teaching Module reveals rows of leafy greens growing from plastic envelopes attached to cables. This greenhouse is a teaching module that will travel the country, introducing the public to the concept of greenhouses in space. (Photo by Randy Bowen)

Gardening throughout America has shown a steady increase in recent years.

There are many reasons for gardening's renewed popularity: an aging population with more time to spend gardening, increased cost of buying food in grocery stores, the proven negative effects pesticides and chemicals have on our bodies, understanding of the important role plants play in providing our planet with clean air and water, and knowledge of the simple joys gardening provides which offer calmness to our increasingly complex lives. “Back to nature” is no longer a fad but a way of life.

Even astronauts may someday be gardening. The University of Arizona's scientific research staff, headed by Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, has designed a lunar greenhouse that may travel on missions to the moon and elsewhere.

Plants grown in the greenhouse will absorb carbon dioxide and replenish oxygen used by the astronauts. They will also provide clean drinking water by recycling distilled urine through the plants' systems to produce clean water vapor which can be drunk. Vegetables raised in the greenhouse will provide at least 50 percent of the nutritional requirements of the astronauts, with the possibility of fish/shrimp aquaponics providing the other 50 percent. The 3Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle — work just as well in space as on Earth.

Funding for the current phase of the UA lunar greenhouse project comes from a NASA grant that will also allow experimentation with other types of controlled environments. Since 1999, when then-governor Jane Hull recommended funding of the Controlled Environment Agriculture program at the UA, the university has been a leader in the research of controlled environments such as greenhouses for specialized crop production.

Because of the moon's harsh conditions, the lunar greenhouse will be buried beneath the surface. Water-cooled lamps or sunlight piped in using fiber optic cables will give the plants necessary sunlight for photosynthesis. The goal is to show that vegetables can be grown in space and can be incorporated into the diet of astronauts working on long-term missions. A diversity of crops grown in the lunar greenhouse will provide a diversified diet for the astronauts.

Read more of this article from the July 12 issue of the Yuma Sun at the link below. Its author, Karen Bowen, is a master gardener and member of Yuma Garden Club.

Date released: 
Aug 3 2012
Contact: 
Gene Giacomelli