When humans decide that it’s finally time to colonize the moon, researchers at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) will be ready with hydroponic vegetables for our intrepid adventurers. A team of CEAC engineers has built a prototype lunar greenhouse that can grow a number of vegetables, including potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, and peppers.
The membrane-covered greenhouse contains water-cooled sodium vapor lamps and seed-filled envelopes, as well as a robotic system that can get the whole thing up and running in just 10 minutes. CEAC explains:
Carbon dioxide is fed into the prototype greenhouse from pressurized
tanks, but astronauts would provide CO2 at the lunar base just by
breathing. Similarly, water for the plants would be extracted from
astronaut urine, and the water-cooled electric lights might be replaced
by fiber optic cable–essentially light pipes–which would channel
sunlight from the surface to the plants underground. The lunar greenhouse contains approximately 220 pounds of wet plant
material that can provide 53 quarts of potable water and about
three-quarters of a pound of oxygen during a 24-hour period, while
consuming about 100 kilowatts of electricity and a pound of carbon
The system, which is being partially funded by NASA, is based on a CEAC food production system that has been operating at the South Pole research station for six years. That greenhouse successfully provides food to researchers who are cut off from outside resources for up to eight months each year.
Of course, the lunar greenhouse isn’t anywhere close to providing astronauts with fresh vegetables. CEAC needs another $225,000 from NASA just to continue the project for two more years. But if all goes well, CEAC researchers might be able to use the lunar greenhouse a bit closer to home–for example, in urban centers that don’t usually grow food. Now, that’s boldly growing where no vegetable has grown before.