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Space Science

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

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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  • Small Question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LifesABeach ( 234436 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @06:32PM (#47217581) Homepage
    How big of an meteorite would one need for a valid proof of concept? Also, in order to create atmosphere, a large shake and bake bag of CO2 for said meteorite? Can the roots grab hold onto said meteorite? Maybe a bit celophane tape to hold the seeds on the meteorite till the roots take hold?

    I know how stupid this is going to sound; but couldn't one test this out by taking a large meteorite fragment up to the ISS and test there? I know what I just said.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Basically what the guy is doing is taking the meteorite, making a puree out of it, adding water, then seeing what grows in the puree.

      Very interesting meteors can make plants grow.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        It's all fun and games until it stands up, walks out of the perti dish and says "'allo govner!"

      • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

        Really? I don't really find it that interesting. What nutrients plants need to grow is well established. This is only really interesting if the meteorite was found to not contain forms of the various nutrients that we would have expected they can use (or can get some bacteria to process for them into a form they can use)

        Its not a really unimportant test, just because you expect it to work doesn't mean its unworthy of testing or doesn't need some tests in specific situations but.... the result is exactly wha

    • A meteorite won't cut it. Also most plants don't grow in weightlessness, they can't figure out which way is "up." So you need an artificial gravity device called a centrifuge, pretty much just a huge cylinder to put your farm in. Also, as meteorite and vacuum protection and cosmic ray radiation protection is important, it probably has to be fully aluminum/titanium/iron/magnesium, and no windows on it, other than cameras and screens and solar panels, but you can't have a farm-like continuous sunlight, expeci
      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
        Billy stop being silly and please don't spread disinformation.

        Plants never grow 'up', they grow towards the light. The only thing people THOUGHT would be a problem is root formation, but it turns out that doesn't depend on gravity either.

        The easy solution, as opposed to your high embodied energy tech, is to surround your growing space with water, you need to store it anyways. Takes care of the radiation and allows light through.

        • Water has to be contained in something, lest it instantly be vaporized in the vacuum of outer space. Do you propose the space station be made out of glass tanks of water, or steel/titanium, with a light concentrator sending the collected sunlight through a conduit to be distributed. If developed for the space station, such turn on the fiberoptic sunlight light and supplement it dynamically with electric light as cloud cover moves in and out of the way of the Sun, for constant lighting in the room, such thin
      • Re:Small Question (Score:5, Informative)

        by tragedy ( 27079 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @02:30AM (#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.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I would also like to add that artificial gravity doesn't necessarily mean gravity equivalent to Earth.
          Sometimes with problems occur it microgravity you only need a small nudge to solve the problem.
          A rotating station where you have 1% of earth gravity? Suddenly falling things will all start to move in the same direction and air bubbles will move out of water.

  • I'd worry about metals and other trace elements lightly poisoning the plants. Meteorites and other airless worlds have not had water scrubbing the rocks for eons, washing things out, much less plants and bacteria growing there and sapping it millions of times over prior to your lil' cute vegetable garden making an appearance.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @06:50PM (#47217727) Homepage Journal

      "...less plants and bacteria..."
      really? I think if thatw as an issue the headline would ahve said:

      "OMFG! Scientists discovers bacteria and plants in meteor! WORLD CHANGED FOREVER!"

      Neil DeGrasse Tyson was quoted as saying "This is the greatest discovery in all of human history, and stop blaming me for Pluto."

      • If you can grow Earth-originated plants on a meteorite substrate, there's a rather decent possibility that there's already things growing on it.
    • Re:Dry rocks 'r us (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TWX ( 665546 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @06:52PM (#47217745)
      Yes, but one can test for heavy metals and other toxic substances. He's just establishing a baseline. If it works at all on this very small scale then it's evidence that greater (ie, more expensive) trials may be worthwhile.

      The ideas of robotic missions that land on asteroids could include an experiment that attempts to set up some grow chambers pressed against the asteroid, to see if anything can be made to grow directly on one. But, they'd only accept the proposal to try it once it's been demonstrated in a lesser capacity.
    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Good thing we know which plants are good at chelating which metals. Permaculture at its best is when you have certain plants cleaning the soil, certain plants amending the soil, and others taking up the stuff and producing food.

      Of course, logic in agriculture never cuts it in the US.

  • If we can grow asparagus and potatoes, that means we can grow food for our food!

    That said, we kinda need more variety than that, and I'd guess that the specimens in question are somewhat lacking the full range of nutrients they might here.

  • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
    Sure making some seed bombs and throwing them at planets might work, but it will take a long time.

    Realistically, Mars or the moon is where we'd be going first. An aquaponics setup would make the most logical sense for a starter colony to provide fish, oxygen and fuel(algae), radiation protection, recycling of urine, etc... With composting of human fecal matter through concentrated solar to produce biochar and hot water. Then usage of dust, pebbles, rocks, from digging out habitats, some for concrete, som

  • Liking asparagus I find only one problem, your urine will really reek worse than stale beer pee. Tonight's asparagus is tomorrows skunked orange juice.
  • In space, no one can smell your pee. "Why does the recycled water taste funny?"
  • Why does this story bring "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049366/ [imdb.com]) to mind?
  • The researcher didn't really grow anything on meteorites. He looked at the chemical composition and concluded most plants could grown in soil with those components. Then they mixed up a batch and demonstrated that it wasn't toxic.
  • I'm allergic to asparagus, you insensitive clod!!

  • by DarthVain ( 724186 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @11:03AM (#47229973)

    OK, if you are going to make us drink our own pee, can you NOT base our diet around Asparagus? k thx bye!

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.