It’s a science fiction staple: living in outer space, and taking the story of humanity to the stars.
But to get from here to there, astronauts will need to eat. This year, the Conservatory at Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens is exploring exactly how to make that happen, starting with hydroponics.
Reiman Gardens Indoor Horticulturist Ed Moran says, “Hydroponics is basically growing the plants, I consider it, in a solution without soil. So this, a completely artificial environment. We can manipulate the nutrient load, the pH, the temperature, the oxygen level of that.”
Another way to feed hungry astronauts? Aquaponics. Waste water dumps out from a fish tank into a bio-filter. Then the water is sent to the plants, which float on rafts. Another pump on the side diverts the water from the rafts toward plants on trellises and through crayfish tanks, and the whole process starts all over again.
This all may seem like technology of the far future, but hydroponics and aquaponics can be useful to producers and researchers right now. Moran says the idea that led to this year’s science fiction theme was a little more broad.
“The idea is called bio-dome, so the story was we’re going to be on a mission to another planet to colonize, but that’s going to take a long time and we need to be able to grow plants and grow food on the way.”
Whether it’s living in outer space or increasing efficiency in agriculture here on the pale blue dot, Moran says the driving factor is a growing global population.
“We have to figure out a way to feed more people and still have a sustainable ecosystem and aquaculture is one of those ways we can achieve some of those practices.”
So for humankind to get to the stars, we may have to go through Iowa first.