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Astro-horticulture: Gardening in Space, And Mars

Is there a place for gardening in space, and one day, on alien planets like Mars? Yes, and that's evidenced by emerging college programs in astro-horticulture, astro-botany, and other studies dedicated to figuring out how to grow crops outside of the relative safety of Earth, along with all of the right ingredients for fruits and vegetables to be produced. 

As early as 2013, there were efforts by astrobiologists to fund research to plant gardens on Mars, like this Kickstarter that hoped to do it with a robot. It raised more than 3k from 75 backers, but ultimately failed. But, that was just the beginning. By 2015 American astronauts were munching on Romaine lettuce that had been grown in space. And, to date many plants have been grown in space: sunflowers, zinnias, flax, tulips, bok choy, and much more. (1)

gardening on mars
Photo by Planet Volumes­č¬É on Unsplash

Here are answers to the most common FAQ about gardening in space today: 

 What do botanists at NASA do?

Botanists at NASA are scientists who study how plants can grow and thrive in space environments, such as on the International Space Station and in future space habitats. They research different plant species and experiment with ways to optimize plant growth and nutrient uptake in space, as well as investigate the potential uses of plants in space exploration, such as producing food, oxygen, and recycling waste.

What is an astro botanist?

An astro botanist is a type of scientist who specializes in studying how plants behave and adapt to space environments. They study the biology, genetics, and physiology of plants, as well as the effects of microgravity, radiation, and other space-related factors on plant growth and development. Astro botanists work with other space scientists to develop new technologies and strategies for growing plants in space habitats.

When was the term astrobotany coined?

The term astrobotany was first coined in the 1980s, when NASA began conducting research on the effects of microgravity on plant growth. However, the field has been growing rapidly in recent years as space agencies and private companies prepare for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

Who is the botanist for NASA?

There are several botanists who work for NASA, including Dr. Gioia Massa, who is a plant scientist and project scientist for the Veggie plant growth system on the International Space Station. Other notable NASA botanists include Dr. Bob Ferl and Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul, who have conducted extensive research on the genetics and biochemistry of plants in space.

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Featured Horticultural Expert

Dr. Taha Arooj works as an Assistant Professor at GC University, where she teaches various botany courses including courses on physiology, phytopathology, and ethnobotany. She holds a PhD degree in Botany from GCU, Lahore.

Dr. Taha Arooj

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