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A Scientist Is Growing Asparagus In Meteorites To Prepare Us For Space Farming

Soulskill posted about a month ago | from the maybe-you-could-grow-some-bacon-while-you're-at-it dept.

Space 59

Jason Koebler writes: For those of us without a green thumb, growing even the most hardy plants in perfect conditions can seem impossible. How about trying to grow plants on a meteorite? Well, at least one scientist is doing it, with moderate levels of success. "People have been talking about terraforming, but what I'm trying to do is give some concrete evidence that it's possible to do this, that it's possible to grow in extraterrestrial materials," Michael Mautner, one of the world's only "astroecologists" said. "What I've found is that a range of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and even asparagus and potato plants—can survive with the nutrients that are in extraterrestrial materials."

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59 comments

seems legit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217473)

Onions but not onions. Asparagus but not asparagus. Taste the same but different.

cool hobby, bro (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217503)

Scientist will be dead and forgotten long before anyone does any space farming in space.

Re:cool hobby, bro (4, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about a month ago | (#47217671)

Just like that idiot who discovered penicillin. What a waste of time, he should have been doing something important like playing croquet with the nobility. Nobody remembers them either, but at least he could have caught a few dozen varieties of syphilis while he was at it.

Mushrooms? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217561)

They grow on your mom's roast beef lips. Nasty as they are, they should grow anywhere.

Re:Mushrooms? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217941)

My mother was a sadistic and psychologically abusive bitch, how dare you speak nicely of her!

Re:Mushrooms? (0)

sillybilly (668960) | about a month ago | (#47219129)

Women are like that, psycho. It's how they control men, he can control her by physically shoving her around, but she can control him by pushing his psychologically active buttons till he collapses crying I can't take it anymore. It's how nature made us. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Re:Mushrooms? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47220311)

Here is what you need to know [pimpfeet.com]

Small Question (3, Interesting)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a month ago | (#47217581)

How big of an meteorite would one need for a valid proof of concept? Also, in order to create atmosphere, a large shake and bake bag of CO2 for said meteorite? Can the roots grab hold onto said meteorite? Maybe a bit celophane tape to hold the seeds on the meteorite till the roots take hold?

I know how stupid this is going to sound; but couldn't one test this out by taking a large meteorite fragment up to the ISS and test there? I know what I just said.

Re:Small Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217653)

Better add a trampoline to your grant proposal, guy.

Re:Small Question (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217661)

Basically what the guy is doing is taking the meteorite, making a puree out of it, adding water, then seeing what grows in the puree.

Very interesting meteors can make plants grow.

Re:Small Question (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a month ago | (#47217697)

It's all fun and games until it stands up, walks out of the perti dish and says "'allo govner!"

Re:Small Question (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about a month ago | (#47217975)

Really? I don't really find it that interesting. What nutrients plants need to grow is well established. This is only really interesting if the meteorite was found to not contain forms of the various nutrients that we would have expected they can use (or can get some bacteria to process for them into a form they can use)

Its not a really unimportant test, just because you expect it to work doesn't mean its unworthy of testing or doesn't need some tests in specific situations but.... the result is exactly what would be expected...it works.

Hell even if it was missing several nutrients or had them in uselss forms....plants can still often do pretty well in rather non-ideal conditions. Hell even if the meteorite is just an inert media, that works fine too. In medium nutrients are finite anyway, likely you need to do some sort of fertilizing, either by reclaiming nutrients from waste (composting could be odd that high up in the gravity well) or mining it from somewhere.

Re:Small Question (0)

sillybilly (668960) | about a month ago | (#47219213)

A meteorite won't cut it. Also most plants don't grow in weightlessness, they can't figure out which way is "up." So you need an artificial gravity device called a centrifuge, pretty much just a huge cylinder to put your farm in. Also, as meteorite and vacuum protection and cosmic ray radiation protection is important, it probably has to be fully aluminum/titanium/iron/magnesium, and no windows on it, other than cameras and screens and solar panels, but you can't have a farm-like continuous sunlight, expecially if you're spinning, unless you orient the axle to aim at the sun. the Sun's rays come through the center and dispersed throughout the ship. Somehow artificial lighting sounds better, and stuff grown in arrtificial lighting, fueled by solar panels. If that's possible.It's easier to run artificial chemical mini-reactors to make sugars from CO2 and water and energy, than to farm for it up there, because artificial light is hopelessly energy inefficient, a solar collector like a bunch of mirrors could directly use the already present high efficiency light from the Sun, instead of the 15% solar to electric, and 0.01%(r something like that) electric to light, and then 0.1% light to carbohydrate through photosynthesis. The overal process efficiency then is 0.15x0.01x0.1=.00015, or 0.015%, not very high. This is a big issue.

Re:Small Question (2)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a month ago | (#47219701)

Billy stop being silly and please don't spread disinformation.

Plants never grow 'up', they grow towards the light. The only thing people THOUGHT would be a problem is root formation, but it turns out that doesn't depend on gravity either.

The easy solution, as opposed to your high embodied energy tech, is to surround your growing space with water, you need to store it anyways. Takes care of the radiation and allows light through.

Re:Small Question (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about a month ago | (#47226935)

Water has to be contained in something, lest it instantly be vaporized in the vacuum of outer space. Do you propose the space station be made out of glass tanks of water, or steel/titanium, with a light concentrator sending the collected sunlight through a conduit to be distributed. If developed for the space station, such turn on the fiberoptic sunlight light and supplement it dynamically with electric light as cloud cover moves in and out of the way of the Sun, for constant lighting in the room, such things could be used on Eartian buildings too down here. By the way we could make glass too from Moon based materials, if that's what your heart desires. It's a matter of economics and function. I say steel/aluminum is cheaper and protects better from radiation and meteorites going 20 miles per second (well nothing really protects against that, so you need double walled cylinders with the two walls sliding against each other, so a fast meteorite piercing both leaves a hole through which the station leaks to vacuum, but if the holes get misaligned from unsynched rotation, it stops the leaking,., than a water filled glass cylinder spacing.

Re:Small Question (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a month ago | (#47227143)

Sounds expensive.

Plastic bubbles.

Re:Small Question (4, Informative)

tragedy (27079) | about a month ago | (#47219961)

Also most plants don't grow in weightlessness, they can't figure out which way is "up."

Pretty much all of the experiments done on the ISS show the opposite. The plants tested so far don't care about "up". Or, rather, to them "up" is towards the light source and "down" is towards moisture.

artificial light is hopelessly energy inefficient, a solar collector like a bunch of mirrors could directly use the already present high efficiency light from the Sun, instead of the 15% solar to electric, and 0.01%(r something like that) electric to light, and then 0.1% light to carbohydrate through photosynthesis. The overal process efficiency then is 0.15x0.01x0.1=.00015, or 0.015%, not very high. This is a big issue.

What are you smoking there exactly? .01% efficiency for electric lighting? You did put in in your calculation as 1%, but even that's ridiculously low. Even the earliest electric arc lights weren't that inefficient. For modern electric lighting, you're looking at more like at least 30% efficiency, if not more. I have no idea why you included the "light to carbohydrate" efficiency in your calculations. I'm assuming it was to compare against "artificial chemical mini-reactors", but you didn't really give any numbers or description of those processes, so it's not exactly a reasonable comparison, especially since you can get a lot more from plants than just simple sugars. Efficiency of generated light is also a bit harder to figure out because grow lights tend to be tuned for maximally efficient photosynthesis and don't "waste" as much energy as natural sunlight. Your .01% (although you put it in your final calculation as 1%) efficiency for photosynthesis is typically more like 3 to 6% for plants with real sunlight and would probably be at least upwards of 5% for "tuned" artificial light. It's theoretically possible with efficient enough solar cells and artificial lights to take sunlight in through solar cells and produce artificial light from the electricity which actually is more effective at growing plants than the original sunlight. It would require higher efficiencies than are likely to ever become available, however. Still solar powered grow lights don't actually fare as terribly against direct sunlight as you make it out. Also when comparing with Earth, don't forget that space stations beyond LEO (or even in LEO with certain orbits) will tend to have greater insolation than Earth.

In any case, the actual efficiency is going to end up being something more like .15x.3= .045 or 4.5% conservatively, but probably higher. At the same stage of the game, the power available to a chemical mini-reactor is going to be .15, or 15%, since it's getting its power from the same solar cells as the greenhouse. So, then it's a question of how efficient the artificial reactor is versus the plant at converting its input power source to final product. This is of course ignoring the fact that an assortment of plants (and fungi, algae, etc.) is an incredibly complex chemical factory that can produce everything a human needs to survive, whereas a chemical reactor that produces simple carbohydrates... produces simple carbohydrates.

Re:Small Question (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47221541)

I would also like to add that artificial gravity doesn't necessarily mean gravity equivalent to Earth.
Sometimes with problems occur it microgravity you only need a small nudge to solve the problem.
A rotating station where you have 1% of earth gravity? Suddenly falling things will all start to move in the same direction and air bubbles will move out of water.

Re:Small Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47222579)

For modern electric lighting, you're looking at more like at least 30% efficiency, if not more.

this is completely wrong.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luminous_efficacy

the theoretical limit for LED's is around 38.1–43.9%.

standard for LED is 13-16%

other types of electrical lights are less than 10%.

it is also possible that the earliest lights were less than 0.01% efficient as candles are 0.04% efficient but I haven't checked.

you speak with authority on something you clearly no nothing about.

Re:Small Question (1)

GuB-42 (2483988) | about a month ago | (#47223245)

the theoretical limit for LED's is around 38.1–43.9%.

This is the theoretical limit for *white* LEDs. Even with a perfect light source, you can't get much higher than this and still call it white. 100% is for monochromatic green.

Also, luminous efficiency is for human vision. It is meaningless for photosynthesis. PAR ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org] ) should be used instead.

Re:Small Question (1)

tragedy (27079) | about a month ago | (#47234539)

this is completely wrong.

This is completely wrong.

First, as GuB-42 pointed out, luminous efficiency is an anthrocentric measurement. The numbers on the wikipedia page you referenced where white LEDs go to 22% efficiency at 150 lm/W, and are listed as the most efficient. Obviously, since a white LED is just a blue LED with a phosphor coating to re-emit in different colors, a white LED can't actually have higher radiant flux (watt for watt efficiency) than the blue LED it's made from, or we've just discovered perpetual motion. Also, I should point out that there are LEDs with luminous efficiency (a confusing term) up to 173 lm/W, which is higher than anything on that chart. I should also point out that I didn't specifically say LEDS, so singling out LEDS when low pressure sodium lamps list on that chart with a luminous efficiency of 29% isn't entirely reasonable.

In any case, the numbers I listed were clearly a lot better than those of the original poster, which were off by more than an order of magnitude or three orders of magnitude, depending on which version you look at. This is back of an envelope stuff, not a detailed engineering study. For example, I didn't see you blasting the efficiency number of 15% given for solar cells when the solar cells typically used in space hardware these days are usually in the mid-twenties or above, in terms of efficiency.

you speak with authority on something you clearly no nothing about.

Yeah, I clearly "no" so much less about it than you and bow down in your presence. Really, the fact is that even engineers who deal with this stuff all day long have a hard time keeping up with all the funny little ways to think about light. There's a lot of comparing apples to oranges. I wrote my post because the poster I was replying to was off in their calculations by a monumental degree.

Wow, what a bitch... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217597)

Wow! It must be a bitch to get to the meteorite, plant and water the seeds, and get back to earth.

Oh wait, this is another Slashdot moment in non-reality. :) You got me again you smart and clever Democrat you.

Re:Wow, what a bitch... (5, Funny)

Farmer Tim (530755) | about a month ago | (#47218123)

“Meteorite” means a rock that has already fallen from the sky, and we have plenty of those. A rock still floating around in space is called an “asteroid”.

And just in case you’re unsure what those other words mean, when you go outside “sky” is what's above your head, “rock” is what your head is made of, and “space” is like what's inside your head except it isn’t as close to a perfect vacuum.

Re:Wow, what a bitch... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47218503)

and "Space" is what is between your ears and eyes! Go work for NASA you dumb twat. LOL

Re:Wow, what a bitch... (0)

Farmer Tim (530755) | about a month ago | (#47218931)

Comprehension skill fail: you merely paraphrased what I said. Come back when you can demonstrate greater intelligence than a parrot.

Dry rocks 'r us (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a month ago | (#47217657)

I'd worry about metals and other trace elements lightly poisoning the plants. Meteorites and other airless worlds have not had water scrubbing the rocks for eons, washing things out, much less plants and bacteria growing there and sapping it millions of times over prior to your lil' cute vegetable garden making an appearance.

Re:Dry rocks 'r us (3, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | about a month ago | (#47217727)

"...less plants and bacteria..."
really? I think if thatw as an issue the headline would ahve said:

"OMFG! Scientists discovers bacteria and plants in meteor! WORLD CHANGED FOREVER!"

Neil DeGrasse Tyson was quoted as saying "This is the greatest discovery in all of human history, and stop blaming me for Pluto."

Re:Dry rocks 'r us (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about a month ago | (#47219357)

If you can grow Earth-originated plants on a meteorite substrate, there's a rather decent possibility that there's already things growing on it.

Re:Dry rocks 'r us (4, Insightful)

TWX (665546) | about a month ago | (#47217745)

Yes, but one can test for heavy metals and other toxic substances. He's just establishing a baseline. If it works at all on this very small scale then it's evidence that greater (ie, more expensive) trials may be worthwhile.

The ideas of robotic missions that land on asteroids could include an experiment that attempts to set up some grow chambers pressed against the asteroid, to see if anything can be made to grow directly on one. But, they'd only accept the proposal to try it once it's been demonstrated in a lesser capacity.

Re:Dry rocks 'r us (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a month ago | (#47219719)

Good thing we know which plants are good at chelating which metals. Permaculture at its best is when you have certain plants cleaning the soil, certain plants amending the soil, and others taking up the stuff and producing food.

Of course, logic in agriculture never cuts it in the US.

Fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217707)

After all, it's the same atoms from one end of the universe to the other, so what has he proven?

Given the conditions on Earth, you can use atoms from space to grow plants?

Yippee. We kinda knew that.

What does that have to do with space? Once you remove our gravity, atmosphere and magnetosphere, *that's* when it gets hard...

Re:Fine (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a month ago | (#47218021)

I don't think you've spent much time gardening. Plants are very finicky things, and if you handed me a pile of random dust and asked if I could grow something in it, I would not be able to answer you - I'd have to run some tests. I'm sure there will be challenges with gravity and radiation, but that doesn't mean that the soil is going to be the easy part.

Re:Fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47218345)

Pfft...potatoes will grow anywhere, I have some in my cabinet that are growing just fine, I'd assume being in any sort of soil would help them.

Now my damn peppers and tomatoes, those are finicky.

Re:Fine (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a month ago | (#47218397)

So you aren't Irish, then? :p

Re:Fine (1)

lazy genes (741633) | about a month ago | (#47223595)

Dealing with the radiation is going to be tricky. Its even tricky on earth. You can buy organic apples from Fukushima in some Asian markets, not sure if they found a way to the USA yet.

Re:Fine (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a month ago | (#47224621)

I'd argue that those problems are different. The concern with the apples is that they are radioactive due to contamination from radioactive elements in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant. You then would ingest the radiation source directly. The radiation that would pose a problem in space has a source very, very far away but you lack the shielding of a magnetic field and atmosphere. Ingestion should pose no danger if you can get the thing to grow at all.

Re:Fine (1)

lazy genes (741633) | about a month ago | (#47224973)

I still do not know why they are using vegetable. It would be easier to get some bacteria that will grow in space and transform it into something edible. IMO plants have genetic timing systems that are earth specific and would be difficult to change.

Re:Fine (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a month ago | (#47226339)

In TFA, they mention simpler life.

Re:Fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47218045)

Because you never, ever rule out things like "Plants can't grow in pulverised meteorite" before trying to do it in space, you fucking halfwit. This is why you're not an actual scientist.

Re:Fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47218369)

Hmm, something shorted out in your brain pan there, buddy.

one small step (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | about a month ago | (#47217743)

If we can grow asparagus and potatoes, that means we can grow food for our food!

That said, we kinda need more variety than that, and I'd guess that the specimens in question are somewhat lacking the full range of nutrients they might here.

Re:one small step (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217963)

Bring a 3D printer. Asparagus in, any food out.

Simple, really, and only a Luddite would think that isn't possible.

After all, computers got better, therefore everything else will get better too, at the same rate.

Not short term enough (1, Insightful)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a month ago | (#47217753)

Sure making some seed bombs and throwing them at planets might work, but it will take a long time.

Realistically, Mars or the moon is where we'd be going first. An aquaponics setup would make the most logical sense for a starter colony to provide fish, oxygen and fuel(algae), radiation protection, recycling of urine, etc... With composting of human fecal matter through concentrated solar to produce biochar and hot water. Then usage of dust, pebbles, rocks, from digging out habitats, some for concrete, some for drainage, some for soil(biochar and compost) amendment.

All of which is doable right now and since life tends to always find a way, you'll get your specialized bacteria soon enough.

Re:Not short term enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47221927)

life tends to always find a way

Just because weeds grow in pavement cracks doesn't mean bacteria will suddenly develop the ability to evolve 1,000,000x more rapidly than they do on Earth.

Potatoes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217865)

The Irish will inherit the asteroid belt!

While other people, fittingly, will probably colonize the other planets, leaving them nothing but the asteroid belt.

The weed man (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47217957)

Just ask a marijuana grower. They have the ability to grow that plant almost anywhere! In caves, basements and beer vats.

prepare? You mean deter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47218141)

seriously, if that's all there is to eat, screw it, i'll stay on earth.

That should make the TANG taste different. (2)

RAVEN2 (1368873) | about a month ago | (#47218155)

Liking asparagus I find only one problem, your urine will really reek worse than stale beer pee. Tonight's asparagus is tomorrows skunked orange juice.

That should make the TANG taste different. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47219801)

imagine how bad your urine will smell after eating asparagus that was watered with recycled asparagus urine...

In space... (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about a month ago | (#47218707)

In space, no one can smell your pee. "Why does the recycled water taste funny?"

I like asparagus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47218885)

It's really good.

Space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47219117)

where no one can smell your piss

Sorry, I RTFA (1)

tomhath (637240) | about a month ago | (#47220753)

The researcher didn't really grow anything on meteorites. He looked at the chemical composition and concluded most plants could grown in soil with those components. Then they mixed up a batch and demonstrated that it wasn't toxic.

Without a magnetosphere all is for not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47221207)

The sun will sterilize everything and ion storms will strip atmospheres away unless you have a magnetic shield of some sort. If the core of the planet is frozen then no luck

Asparagus???? (1)

Mike Quickenton (2935751) | about a month ago | (#47221441)

Asparagus in a closed environment sounds like a horrible idea. Can you turn a fan on in the lavatory on a space station or bio dome on a space rock? I mean... ewwww.

Obiligitory (1)

BobMcD (601576) | about a month ago | (#47222295)

I'm allergic to asparagus, you insensitive clod!!

Scientist with a sense of humor... (2)

DarthVain (724186) | about a month ago | (#47229973)

OK, if you are going to make us drink our own pee, can you NOT base our diet around Asparagus? k thx bye!

Doctor Who Anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47230549)

Have you all not seen the episode of Doctor Who "The Waters of Mars" where there was a hidden intelligent virus inside the water supply on the planet? What if something of the sort was in the meteorite or asteroid they decide to try to plant food in?

Props for trying to find ways for humans to survive in the future, but I do not think this is such a great idea---sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

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