While it may seem straight out of a science fiction novel, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Lund have created a method of growing plants in space in order to reduce reliance on vacuum-sealed foods and provide astronauts with a healthier, more energy-efficient source of food.
Known as the PLANT system, it involves the use of small packets of soil and nutrient that can be ergonomically placed near artificial lighting sources on spacecrafts. Once placed, astronauts would be responsible for ensuring that the "pillows" receive enough moisture. All they do after that is wait to reap the spoils.
"The system uses the capillary force of water traveling through sponge-like material," head designer Piotr Szpryngwald explained to green technology website EarthTechling. "The 'pillows' which contain a granulate-like filling suck the water through a membrane in the bottom of the silver packaging. Each pillow contains a seed, and can be reused."
The work fits into a larger narrative supported by NASA of a future that envisions space-based farms that could produce food for needy countries or the basic materials for large-scale biofuel production. One study conducted by the space agency looked into whether or not low-gravity environments had a positive or negative effect on growth patterns. According to its website, NASA has not released the results of this experiment.
Regardless of the outcome, the PLANT system has enormous implications for the future of space travel, not only from a purely economic perspective, but a psychological one as well. Szpryngwald envisioned circular growth habitats that could ring travel passageways on a space station or craft, through which astronauts could move freely through.
"Floating through it should bring a bit back of a walk through a forest and be a reminder to mother earth," he said.