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Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Growing vegetables for the International Space Station

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is conducting tests for growing vegetables as astronaut food on the International Space Station. It researchers have developed high-tech planters and are growing vegetables on Earth as a test for future astronaut food to be consumed on the International Space Station.

The longest stays at the International Space Station have been six months, but people travelling to Mars will have to be prepared to stay in space for at least a year. Currently, astronaut food consists of freeze-dried and vacuum-packed foods only. The European Space Agency plans to build a lunar base in 2030 as a stopover on the way to Mars. NASA’s plan is to fly directly to Mars with 2030 as the target landing date.

Silje Wolff, a plant physiologist at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space, which is part of NTNU Social Research, said: “The dream of every astronaut is to be able to eat fresh food – like strawberries, cherry tomatoes or anything that’s really flavourful. Someday that will certainly be possible. We envision a greenhouse with several varieties of vegetables.”

Wolff explained: “We found that plants can, in a way, ‘smell’ the amount of nutrients available to them. When the nitrogen concentration is very low, the plant will absorb more water and thus more nitrogen until it reaches an optimal level. The plant has a mechanism that turns on when the nitrogen level is adequate. Then it adjusts both nitrogen and water absorption down.”

According to, all of the tests on Earth have now been carried out and the next step is to grow beans in space. This will allow researchers to observe the effect of zero gravity on plants’ ability to transport water and absorb nutrients, which cannot be simulated on Earth.

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