Growing crops on deep-space missions begins to move from science fiction to reality

“Star Trek” characters could instantly summon any food in the galaxy by calling out to their computer, but until a replicator becomes available, real-life space explorers might have to grow their own crops.

They will have some help from Clemson University’s Joshua Summers, who is beginning to lay the groundwork for deep-space farming as part of a NASA-funded study he is doing with the Boston company, Freight Farms.

The company, whose lead engineer is a Clemson alumnus, converts insulated shipping containers into hydroponic farms that grow lettuce, herbs and other leafy greens. Urban farmers have been using the 320-square-foot boxes to provide fresh produce to restaurants year-round.

Summers, a mechanical engineering professor, has assembled a team that will look for ways to make the self-contained farms more efficient so that the technology they harbor can supply fresh produce to explorers in the far reaches and harsh conditions of deep space.

If sending humans beyond the moon still sounds more like science fiction than science, consider this: The $125,000 that Clemson and Freight Farms received was among $49.7 million in awards that NASA distributed as part of an initiative aimed at enabling deep space missions while benefiting the U.S. economy.

“Ultimately, I think we are going back to space,” Summers said. “Humans by nature are explorers. How do we make life good as we go into these deep explorations? We’re trying to answer part of that question.”

The boxes, dubbed the “Leafy Green Machine,” require about 10 gallons of water per day, which is much less than a traditional farm. They have been confirmed to operate in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees and as high as 120 degrees.

The company, whose lead engineer is a Clemson alumnus, converts insulated shipping containers into hydroponic farms that grow lettuce, herbs and other leafy greens. Urban farmers have been using the 320-square-foot boxes to provide fresh produce to restaurants year-round.

Summers, a mechanical engineering professor, has assembled a team that will look for ways to make the self-contained farms more efficient so that the technology they harbor can supply fresh produce to explorers in the far reaches and harsh conditions of deep space.

If sending humans beyond the moon still sounds more like science fiction than science, consider this: The $125,000 that Clemson and Freight Farms received was among $49.7 million in awards that NASA distributed as part of an initiative aimed at enabling deep space missions while benefiting the U.S. economy.

“Ultimately, I think we are going back to space,” Summers said. “Humans by nature are explorers. How do we make life good as we go into these deep explorations? We’re trying to answer part of that question.”

The boxes, dubbed the “Leafy Green Machine,” require about 10 gallons of water per day, which is much less than a traditional farm. They have been confirmed to operate in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees and as high as 120 degrees.

*This article was originally posted on Clemson’s Newsstand. Read the full article here.*