Scientific research studies to determine how to grow plants in extreme environments on Earth will help NASA understand how to grow plants in extreme conditions on the moon or Mars.
The growth of crop plants in lunar or Mars habitation systems will be essential for meeting astronaut nutritional needs and maintaining astronaut health during long-duration exploration missions. To facilitate these studies, an international agreement between NASA and DLR (German Space Agency) has been signed to enable research collaboration on the EDEN (Evolution and Design of Environmentally-Closed Nutrition-Sources) ISS project at the German Neumayer III Station in Antarctica.
The EDEN module is designed to simulate a plant production system that might operate in a surface setting in space and is used to provide fresh food to the 10 “over-wintering” EDEN crew members. Biological and Physical Sciences research has been conducted at the EDEN site under the Space Biology grant titled “Spectral Imaging within the EDEN ISS Project – An Antarctic Analog for Enhancing Exploration Life Support.” For this Space Biology grant, PI Dr. Robert Ferl and Co-I Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul (both from the University of Florida) traveled to Antarctica to conduct their research.
Kennedy Space Center (KSC) continues to support EDEN ISS. For this project, KSC contractor Jess Bunchek is in residence in Antarctica as one of the crew members at Neumayer III where she is operating and maintaining the plant chamber with the help of DLR colleagues at Bremen, Germany. She is growing crops that have been grown on ISS for BPS-funded experiments to compare growth in the two settings. She is tracking her time spent on horticultural activities, measuring the yields of the different crops, taking microbial samples for post-mission analysis, and helping administer surveys to the crew to obtain their opinions on having fresh food in their diet. Jess arrived in Antarctica in January 2021 and will be there until February 2022.