What could this mean for future spud dependence in space I cant tell...
At least the Irish in space will be well taken care of.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Raymond J. Bula,
Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics Madison, Wisconsin
Purpose: To evaluate performance in microgravity of a unit for
supporting growth of plants and to study how starch accumulation in
plants is affected by the microgravity environment.
Significance: As our stays in space become longer, it will be
necessary to grow plants to minimize the cost of life support. Plants
can help provide food, oxygen, and pure water and can also assist in
removing carbon dioxide from human space habitats. However, since
fluids behave differently in microgravity, plant watering systems that
operate well on Earth do not function effectively in space. A useful
plant growth system must be able to deliver nutrients to the plants
without releasing solutions into crew quarters.
Such a system must also be capable of controlling levels of moisture
in the air or humidity. Excessive levels of humidity can damage
experiments and equipment, while insufficient humidity can have a
detrimental effect on plants. The moisture in the air also represents
a valuable on-orbit commodity that could be recycled as condensed
water for cooking, drinking, or as a source of water for plants.
Additionally, electrical power is a valuable resource on orbiting
spacecraft. This requires that plant growth systems must be able to
provide light as efficiently as possible.
Activating ASC Right: Pilot Ken Bowersox Activating the Astroculture
Experiment on USML-1.
The Astroculture experiment flying on this mission contains three
subsystems that address these issues and provide superior
environmental control for plant growth in an inexpensive and reliable
First, the experiment's water and nutrient delivery system uses porous
tubes with different pressures to ensure a proper flow through the
rooting matrix. This system has already proven itself to be effective
during long-duration flights in the microgravity environment.
Second, the efficient subsystem for controlling moisture in the growth
chamber humidifies and dehumidifies the air without needing a
gas/liquid separator, which is required by all other systems currently
in use, to recover the condensed water.
Third, the lighting subsystem uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to
provide high levels of light within the limits of electrical power
available on orbit and with greater safety than any other light
sources currently used by space-based plant growing facilities.
The experiment package is sealed, with cooling provided by an
experiment heat exchanger and carbon dioxide (necessary for
photosynthesis) supplied from a storage tank.
This equipment will be used to grow potato plants as part of a
cooperative experiment with the Secondary Payload Programs of NASA's
Life and Biomedical Sciences and Applications Division to obtain data
on the nature of starch accumulation in microgravity. Starch is an
important energy storage compound in plants, and there are some
indications that starch accumulation in plants is restricted in
microgravity. To investigate this phenomenon, small potatoes will be
grown in the Astroculture facility They will develop from potato leaf
cuttings with auxiliary buds, which can be induced to develop small
tubers filled with starch in 10 to 15 days.
The experiment will evaluate rates of photosynthesis, movement of
photosynthesis products from leaves to tubers, conversion of sugars to
starch in storage organs, and enzyme activities for the formation and
degradation of starch. Investigators also will study the number, size,
shape, and distribution of starch grains and the structures that form
This flight of the Astroculture hardware is the last of a series of
tests to evaluate each of the critical subsystems needed for the
construction of a reliable plant growth unit. Astroculture flew on the
First United States Microgravity Laboratory and the Spacehab-1 and -2
missions, during which lighting, humidity, pH, nutrient supply and
composition, and carbon dioxide and atmospheric contaminant subsystems
were validated. After the experiment is flight qualified on this
mission, a functional plant growth unit will be available for sale or
lease to commercial enterprises.
Astroculture Hardware Left: Astroculture Hardware
Tuber Right: This tuber was grown from a potato leaf during a 2-week
period, approximately the same amount of time USML-2 will be in orbit.
The technologies used in the Astroculture flight unit have already
resulted in several commercial products for use on Earth. The lighting
subsystem has been the basis of the development of a unique lighting
system for photosynthesis research.
The lighting technology is also being used in some novel medical
applications, ranging from measuring blood sugar levels to use in
photodynamic therapy for cancer patients. Other applications of the
Astroculture technology include improved
dehumidification/humidification units, water efficient irrigation
systems, and energy efficient lighting systems for large scale
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