A team at Clemson University intends to make the oddity of eating in outer-space more earthly.
A team led by mechanical engineering professor Josh Summers received a $125,000 grant from NASA, in partnership with a Boston company Freight Farms, to build self-sufficient hydroponic farming units that grow fresh produce in outer-space for astronauts.
The farming units are refurbished tractor trailers outfitted with air ventilators, water recycling units as well as LED lights and heaters to grow leafy vegetables.
“Our emphasis (at Clemson) is really zeroing in on the energy efficiency and energy consumption,” Summers said.
By rearranging the components inside the Freight Farm trailers, Summers can optimize each system to help grow specific plants and create computer programs that monitor the growth of the produce.
Summers says the goal of the project is to take an existing technologies, “to see if we can develop that technology for NASA, in this case, for use in deep space exploration.” By some estimates it costs NASA $2,000- $3,000 per pound to send something to International Space Station on a SpaceX rocket. Instead of sending prepackaged food items to the International Space Station, that need to be replenished frequently, Summers hopes that NASA will only need to send seeds and water to astronauts, which he hopes would make space flight cheaper and more sustainable.
The grant given to Freight Farms and Clemson was part of $49.7 million in awards given away by NASA to stimulate new technology development for deep space exploration.
Summers says the product also develops another valuable resource: education. He says that having a project supported by NASA helps Clemson recruit the best engineering students for undergraduate and graduate programs. Summer says that projects like the one he received a grant for shows that “South Carolina is starting to be recognized nationally and internationally as, not just as a manufacturing center but as a technology hub.”
Clemson University provided materials for this article.