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German scientist will spend a year in the cold

EDEN-ISS greenhouse on the way to the Antarctic

The research adventure on plant propagation in Antarctica is underway: On October 8, 2017, the cargo ship transporting the container with the special greenhouse left the port of Hamburg, heading for the Antarctic Ekström Ice Shelf. The trip will take about eleven weeks. Shortly before Christmas the team of the research project EDEN-ISS will receive the high-tech greenhouse at Neumayer Station III of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI). The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is working together with international partners to develop fully autonomous vegetable growing for food supply in climatically demanding regions as well as for future manned missions to the moon and Mars.

Rich harvest during the test run
From the end of June to the end of August 2017, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, salads and herbs all thrived during the test run in the container greenhouse, which is twelve meters long. "We were able to harvest a lot during the test run at the DLR site in Bremen," says project leader Daniel Schubert from the DLR Institute for Space Systems. "Now we are confident that everything will work well under the harsh conditions of Antarctica."

In total, the researchers had produced over 40 kilograms of fresh vegetables during the test phase. A fascinating aspect: water leaves the self-sufficient greenhouse system only in the harvested fruits themselves. Everything else is recycled and reintroduced to the plants. Under special artificial lights, temperature controled, without the use of soil and given only selected nutrient solutions, the plants can grow faster and more productively than in their natural environments.

Paul Zabel in the EDEN-ISS greenhouse

Vegetable farming #MadeInAntarctica
From the end of December 2017 the actual plant breeding experiment in the Antarctic commences. At that time DLR scientist Paul Zabel will take the Greenhouse EDEN-ISS into the Antarctic for a year and live there on Antarctic station Neumayer III, operated by the AWI. "Despite the harsh conditions of the region, researchers are living and working in this research station year round. During the Antarctic summer, there are up to 50 people at the station. In winter, on the other hand, there are usually only nine people on the ground: a cook, three engineers, one doctor and four scientists," says the long time station manager Dr. Eberhard Kohlberg. "They form the wintering team, which Paul Zabel will join as our tenth member."

Colleagues from the EDEN-ISS project will be helping Paul Zabel with the construction and commissioning of the greenhouse. Then he is solely responsible for the operation and the cultivation of the vegetables, during the long Polar night. Whatever he will harvest in the months of darkness will enrich Neumayer III's diet. At the same time, the supply scenario of a manned mission to Mars will be modeled.

"The preparations for wintering are exciting and are now taking up a lot of time in my daily routine," says Paul Zabel. "This way you get an idea of how extensive the preparations for a space mission must be, where you also have to think about and be prepared for everything." Zabel has already completed a survival training in the Alps as a member of the Neumayer III wintering team. He also participated in several seminars on the technology of the station and in a one week fire fighting training. Numerous further preparatory courses will follow until the departure in December.

Food production of the future
Global food production is one of the key social challenges in the 21st century. A growing world population and simultaneous changes caused by climate change call for new ways to cultivate crops even in climatically unfavorable regions. For deserts and areas with low temperatures as well as for space missions to the moon and Mars, a closed greenhouse allows for food production independent of weather conditions, sun and the seasons, as well as a lower water consumption and the absence of pesticides and insecticides. With the EDEN-ISS project such a model greenhouse of the future goes into long-term testing under Antarctic extreme conditions for a year. Construction is planned from the end of December 2017 to February 2018. This is then followed by the research operation during the wintering in the Antarctic, until December 2018.

Source: dlr

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