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Space Science

A Scientist Is Growing Asparagus In Meteorites To Prepare Us For Space Farming 59

Posted by Soulskill
from the maybe-you-could-grow-some-bacon-while-you're-at-it dept.
Jason Koebler writes: For those of us without a green thumb, growing even the most hardy plants in perfect conditions can seem impossible. How about trying to grow plants on a meteorite? Well, at least one scientist is doing it, with moderate levels of success. "People have been talking about terraforming, but what I'm trying to do is give some concrete evidence that it's possible to do this, that it's possible to grow in extraterrestrial materials," Michael Mautner, one of the world's only "astroecologists" said. "What I've found is that a range of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and even asparagus and potato plants—can survive with the nutrients that are in extraterrestrial materials."
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A Scientist Is Growing Asparagus In Meteorites To Prepare Us For Space Farming

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  • Re:Small Question (Score:5, Informative)

    by tragedy (27079) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @01:30AM (#47219961)

    Also most plants don't grow in weightlessness, they can't figure out which way is "up."

    Pretty much all of the experiments done on the ISS show the opposite. The plants tested so far don't care about "up". Or, rather, to them "up" is towards the light source and "down" is towards moisture.

    artificial light is hopelessly energy inefficient, a solar collector like a bunch of mirrors could directly use the already present high efficiency light from the Sun, instead of the 15% solar to electric, and 0.01%(r something like that) electric to light, and then 0.1% light to carbohydrate through photosynthesis. The overal process efficiency then is 0.15x0.01x0.1=.00015, or 0.015%, not very high. This is a big issue.

    What are you smoking there exactly? .01% efficiency for electric lighting? You did put in in your calculation as 1%, but even that's ridiculously low. Even the earliest electric arc lights weren't that inefficient. For modern electric lighting, you're looking at more like at least 30% efficiency, if not more. I have no idea why you included the "light to carbohydrate" efficiency in your calculations. I'm assuming it was to compare against "artificial chemical mini-reactors", but you didn't really give any numbers or description of those processes, so it's not exactly a reasonable comparison, especially since you can get a lot more from plants than just simple sugars. Efficiency of generated light is also a bit harder to figure out because grow lights tend to be tuned for maximally efficient photosynthesis and don't "waste" as much energy as natural sunlight. Your .01% (although you put it in your final calculation as 1%) efficiency for photosynthesis is typically more like 3 to 6% for plants with real sunlight and would probably be at least upwards of 5% for "tuned" artificial light. It's theoretically possible with efficient enough solar cells and artificial lights to take sunlight in through solar cells and produce artificial light from the electricity which actually is more effective at growing plants than the original sunlight. It would require higher efficiencies than are likely to ever become available, however. Still solar powered grow lights don't actually fare as terribly against direct sunlight as you make it out. Also when comparing with Earth, don't forget that space stations beyond LEO (or even in LEO with certain orbits) will tend to have greater insolation than Earth.

    In any case, the actual efficiency is going to end up being something more like .15x.3= .045 or 4.5% conservatively, but probably higher. At the same stage of the game, the power available to a chemical mini-reactor is going to be .15, or 15%, since it's getting its power from the same solar cells as the greenhouse. So, then it's a question of how efficient the artificial reactor is versus the plant at converting its input power source to final product. This is of course ignoring the fact that an assortment of plants (and fungi, algae, etc.) is an incredibly complex chemical factory that can produce everything a human needs to survive, whereas a chemical reactor that produces simple carbohydrates... produces simple carbohydrates.

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated. -- Poul Anderson

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