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NASA has been carrying out for several years the Mars-Lunar greenhouse prototype project whose objective is to develop and make practical demonstrations of hardware components and operating procedures to support the bioregeneration of life necessary for human beings who one day should find themselves living on other planets. From this project was born the idea of applying hydroponic crops in agricultural contexts that want to improve the quality of products and optimize the contribution of resources by reducing the environmental impact. This system is also applicable in urban contexts for local and interstitial agriculture that leads the individual towards awareness of production and food independence.
The information acquired and the systems developed to produce limited resources necessary to support life on other planets therefore improve the knowledge we have now, and make the applications that are used on Earth for food production increasingly efficient.
Space hydroponic cultivation systems recycle 100% of the water supplied to plants, from which about 100% of the nutrients needed by the plant to grow is derived. Optimal growth rates are achieved within a controlled atmospheric environment in which plants are inserted.
Optimal growth rates are achieved within a controlled atmospheric environment in which plants are inserted. Water that comes from transpiration is collected from the air and fed back into the nutrient water system.
There is better product quality, higher crop yields, more food security and less waste, as well as the elimination of animal infestations and typical plant diseases.
Recent applications of agricultural space technologies also include the need for agriculture that guarantees fresh and locally grown products.
The Hydrofarm project conceives hydroponic cultivation as a combination of a number of different systems to make the cultivation of plant species more efficient.
The top of the system is hydroponic and keeps plants rooted in water. The bottom of the system can be a freshwater aquarium that allows fish to move around the roots.
Soilless cultivation has obvious advantages in environmental situations where the substrate is not in a position to grow the crop optimally, such as rock or excessively sandy soils.
Another advantage of this type of cultivation is the lower use of water to obtain the same result, approximately one tenth compared to the cultivation in soil, making this system particularly useful in those environmental situations where the scarcity of water makes it difficult or even impossible to grow vegetables.
The environmental benefits are immense if we consider that this technology does not use fertilisers and therefore there are no no dispersions in the soil. The use of herbicides is absent, while the use of pesticides is decidedly reduced.
This is a transition in full current evolution. It will become an important component of the food production chain, covering 230% of production, if not more in regions with extreme climatic environments.
With the Mars-Lunar greenhouse, the South pole food growth chamber (SPFGC) and greenhouses in the semi-arid desert of Arizona, the experience in food production in indoor environments located in harsh contexts has been proven.
The technologies used include hydroponic recirculation for the control of the rooting zone; the recirculation of the ventilation system for the control of room temperature, humidity, light and the presence of CO2; computerized monitoring and control with decision support systems; the development of crop management strategies implemented to have greater compactness and ensure rapid crop rotation.
In addition, by combining these and other systems, the so-called bioregenerative life support system is created, necessary for long-term human settlement on other planets, and the regeneration of terrestrial ecosystems contaminated by human presence.
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