The first seedlings have been planted

The EDEN-ISS laboratory starts its greenhouse operations

Now it's getting serious: The EDEN ISS laboratory in Antarctica has been set up, the first seedlings are placed in the growth cabinets, and the majority of the team of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is back in Germany after eight weeks of travel. For DLR scientist Paul Zabel, who will be the only member of the EDEN ISS team to stay in the Antarctic until the end of 2018, this means that wintering in the Neumayer Station III of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) begins. Cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers will start as the first cultivated plants on the southern-most point of the world. "Our goal is to make sure there will always be something to harvest in the coming months," explains DLR project manager Daniel Schubert. With those proceeds, the diet of the ten man wintering crew will be supplemented.


Photo: DLR German Aerospace Center

The last few weeks have been exhausting for the scientists and engineers who assembled a working greenhouse for the eternal cold of Antarctica from the delivered container parts. Minus 5 to minus 10 degrees Celsius and a decent wind made the work much more exhausting than in Bremen, where the EDEN ISS laboratory was tested for the first time. And these temperatures will drop significantly in the coming weeks. 

In addition to the adverse weather conditions however, the isolated location, which makes the delivery of fresh food impossible, brings the scenario close to a mission to Mars. With Paul Zabel, just nine overwinterers will be living in the Antarctic station over the next few months - a team on a space mission would also be small. "But that's exactly what we wanted to test - with our laboratory, under realistic environmental conditions, we want to produce space tomatoes and space lettuce in an environment like this," says Daniel Schubert from the DLR Institute of Space Systems.


Photo: DLR German Aerospace Center

From basil to lemon balm
In addition to tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries, the scientists are planting leafy lettuce, rucola, radishes, peppers, basil, chives, parsley, lemon balm and mint. The plants are growing under artificial light. Instead of soil, that would have no place on a long-term space mission, a nutrient solution is feeding the cultivated vegetables and herbs. The water in this closed life support system is recycled - it will only leave the container inside the harvested greens.

"All subsystems such as lights, irrigation, air circulation system and cameras are tested and are working properly." However, the harsh environment in which the greenhouse is located has also caused some problems: the researchers had to look for a solution when condensation was precipitated in their containers. "It is just quite different if the container is in a city or in the Antarctic," says Schubert. Building the structure was troublesome. If a tool was needed, someone had to walk 400 meters, back to the Neumayer Station. Not only did all of this make for a strenuous time for DLR's team, but it also brought a wealth of experience needed for a later mission into space.

More photos and information about the project on the DLR website.

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