Growing Plants for Supplemental Food Production on a Mars Fly-By Mission


Growing Plants for Supplemental Food Production on a Mars Fly-By Mission

About the Speaker

Dr. Ray Wheeler is a senior scientist in the Surface Systems Division of the Engineering Directorate at NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and serves as the current lead for advanced life support activities at KSC. Ray has worked on bioregenerative life support research and development since 1982 (University of Wisconsin) and then KSC from 1988 to the present.

Ray’s research includes plant production testing for food and O2 production, and CO2 reduction for space life support systems. In particular, his work focused on lighting and CO2 concentration effects on plant growth and development, and the use of hydroponic techniques for production systems. Ray is the author or co-author of over 220 scientific papers and has presented over 60 invited talks since 1990. Ray received NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, the USDA-ARS Morrison Lecturer Award, NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal, and the Amer. Society for Gravitational and Space Research Founder’s Award.

Ray holds or has held adjunct / courtesy appointments at: Florida Institute of Technology; University of Florida; Utah State University; Cornell University; Texas A&M University, and the University of Arizona. Ray also serves as a vice-chair for the Life Sciences Commission (F) in COSPAR--the International Committee on Space Research.


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Space travel to Mars, even for early fly-by missions, will require meeting all the life support needs of the human crew. This includes oxygen, food, and clean water. Bioregenerative life support approaches for space, such as using plants to generate oxygen and food have been discussed f or many years, and become increasingly cost-effective for longer duration missions. But even “shorter” missions, such as a Mars flyby could benefit from the inclusion of plants for supplemental, fresh foods.

The plants could provide a constant source of high value, perishable fruits and vegetables to improve the nutrition and acceptability of the diet. These plants might be grown in growth chambers that could range from 0.5-5 m2 of growing area, depending on the vehicle size and available power to operate electric lighting.

Alternatively, direct solar light might be concentrated and delivered to the inside of the vehicle to sustain plant growth. Validating plant growth and assessing system reliabilities for a Mars transit mission will be an important step toward the ultimate use of larger, more autonomous\ bioregenerative life support approaches for long-duration surface missions on Mars. Various challenges and concepts for growing plants on a Mars fly by missions will be presented.


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Grand Forks, ND

Growing Plants for Supplemental Food Production on a Mars Fly-By Mission