NASA funds Clemson research on box farms to grow vegetables in space

(WSPA)

CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA) – Farming in outer space sounds like a sci-fi movie, but it could soon become a reality.

NASA is funding Clemson University and a company out of Boston to help find a way to grow fresh food on other planets.

Professors and students are working on a study with Freight Farms to turn refrigerated shipping containers into farms for deep-space. A lead engineer for Freight Farms and former Clemson student brought the idea to Clemson when he got word of the NASA grant.

“It has the cool factor and on the other side it also something that we are contributing toward technology and toward society,” said Amaninder Gill, a PH.D student working on the project. “So it is definitely worthwhile all the effort and time we put in.”

Joshua Summers, the Mechanical Engineering Professor leading the study, say they’re trying to make the produce designed by Freight Farms more efficient. They’re working on an LED system for them that would cool the systems and be easy to use.

“We will be able to put it in a box ship it to them and they open it up, put it in, plug data and send us the data,” Summers said. “That is what we are working on right now.”

The boxes would use LED lights and 10 gallons of nutrient rich water to grow leady greens, like lettuce and kale, on other planets. Right now, Summers says other vegetables couldn’t be grown using the vertical farming techniques. “If you have a corn stalk coming out, it will droop down and not work very well.”

Restaurants around the nation already use similar vertical box farming from Freight Farms in urban areas. But Clemson’s study would help redirect and reuse heat in the farms and help them grow in the extreme conditions of outer space.

Even though the research may not take off for awhile, the professor says it could sooner help our home planet.

“That translates into how to make it more efficient on earth and how to make it more efficient here,” Summers added. “It’s a win, win situation.”

“I would like to see these applications worked in military farms, refugee farms, where everyone could have fresh food,” Gill continued.

NASA awarded Clemson and Freight Farms $125,000 for their space farming study. Its part of a nearly $50 million initiative by NASA to help enable deep space missions in the future.

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