Paul Zabel from the German Aerospace Center is operating a greenhouse in the Antarctic, where tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers flourish. For future space missions, plant cultivation needs to be tested under difficult conditions.
In the past few months, Paul Zabel had to cope with bad weather conditions. For a whole polar winter, he was responsible for the research greenhouse of the German Aerospace Center. This is located in a large container, 300 meters from the German Neumeyer Station.
"We had the lowest temperature in August, with minus 43.4oC. There were a few days where there were stronger storms, and I did not go out because that was just too dangerous. "
Through a satellite connection, the situation in the greenhouse, 13,500 kilometers away from Europe, is monitored continuously.
"We can not touch any of the plants, but we can say for example: The container should be two degrees warmer. Lets make an adjustment and then the container would be up two degrees. We can control the lighting and we can also give a different mix of nutrients to the plants. We can control everything from here."
The complete remote control of vegetable cultivation in a hermetically sealed container is a prerequisite for its application to future interplanetary space missions.
"The scenarios demand that the greenhouse system could fly to Mars in advance, unpacking there automatically and making sure that plants would grow automatically there. When the first would humans arrive on Mars, they could find an almost fully functioning greenhouse. That's the theory."
Source: Deutschlandfunk Kultur