Extreme Gardening On Mars
    By Hank Campbell | June 2nd 2012 12:38 PM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Space is an extremely hostile environment. You knew that, though no one wants to think about exploding instantly as their blood boils without an atmosphere (or it does not - like how airplanes fly, this seems to still be a debate). Most planets aren't all that much better. Yet man is going out there at some point and when that happens, we need to have a plan for growing things and recycling. During long duration missions it is not economical or practical to resupply basic life support elements from Earth. 

    The MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) project is (or was, more on that in a bit) a micro-organism- and plants-based ecosystem experiment to help us gain a better understanding of artificial ecosystems, like what would be needed on Mars, and to roadmap the new technology needed for a regenerative life support system for long-term manned space missions, like a lunar base or a mission to Mars - whatever some future president may pick to look "bold", since it is now fashionable to cancel the previous president's plan in order to put the current one's on a new, bold idea.

    The core concept of MELiSSA is recovering food, water and oxygen from waste (including feces and urea - don't cringe Muad'Dib, it works), carbon dioxide and minerals. Based on an earthlike aquatic ecosystem, MELiSSA is has five compartmentalized areas - thermophilic anoxygenic bacteria, photohererotrophic bacteria, nitrifying bacteria, photosynthetic bacteria, higher plants, and then the crew.


    Waste products and air pollutants that can't be recycled are processed using plants which, in their natural cycle, provide food as well as contributing to water purification and oxygen.

    “With the ongoing climate change and increasing environmental problems, these new technologies can also be applicable here on Earth”, said Prof. Benedikt Sas from the Centre of Excellence Food2Know at University of Ghent. 

    Obviously, knowledge of that sort could also help people to start growing food in areas here which are not currently suitable for food production.  We can obviously do it cheaper with GMOs but the food growing is a secondary benefit, since the primary research goal is growing it in a really hostile climate.

    Bold stuff, but I haven't seen a real update on MELiSSA in a while and their page hasn't been updated since 2006, but by then they seemed to have validated the mathematical models to a point where a prototype could be developed, so I wrote Project Manager Christophe Lasseur at the European Space Agency for an update and he said it still exists but it was somewhat in limbo; "Yes, the MELiSSA project still exists, but indeed we have to do major efforts for PR issues."

    Which basically means finding funding in a competitive budget.  We have the same issues in the U.S. - as I have noted in the past, the problem with the James Webb Space Telescope is not that it isn't terrific, but its chronic delays and being wildly over budget starves a lot of worthy smaller experiments that are not 'too big to fail' and so they die.

    MELiSSA is a long shot, true basic research, but it has a terrific value for the future of space travel so here is hoping it gets back on track.


    It's good to know someone is out there working on this stuff.
    Bold is costly. Where will the money come from? How can we justify growing crops on mars with so many people going hungry on earth?
    These ideas omit one very vital fact. The gravity on mars is 1/4 to 1/5 that of earth, I mean, it can't hold onto much of an atmosphere.

    Also, anyone who is unlucky enough to be raised there can never come to the earth. Our much greater gravity will crush them. The radiation exposure to the astronauts and the long time in zero gravity will destroy their bodies.

    The idea that earth people can't live in zero or small gravity environments is responsible for the change-in-approach to how we go about exploring space and smaller planetoids. Until we can create artificial gravity, I'm afraid its a job best left to robotic or short term human adventures.

    Low gravity research is one reason that Europe, Russia, and the United states are changing their ideas about space exploration. In the short, the human body is not designed for it. The Chinese will discover this soon and discover their ideas about a moon base and a base on Mars are fairy tales at this juncture in our understanding of technology.

    The notion of space exploration, in regards to human explorers, is left in the realm of science fiction once again.

    A short note. The current president has little to do with continuing the sponsorship of NASA or any other space organization. It's simply an evolving situation where the time for private enterprise to take over has come.

    Where did you study science? You might find this expert article enlightening.

    Bold is costly. Where will the money come from? How can we justify growing crops on mars with so many people going hungry on earth?
    Science can fix this issue easily.  Unfortunately, the governments of Europe are as anti-science as it gets and they are responsible for 85 percent of the world's agriculture subsidies so they price poor farmers out of business.  Then they tell poor farmers that if they grow a crop with a natural insecticide - truly organic, no chemicals - that they cannot sell it in Europe.

    Food is the least of the world's problems.  

    Do I think a mission to Mars is a big deal?  Not so much, but America spends a lot on defense and France gives farmers $900 per cow they have for subsidies; I think a few less cows and bullets would not be a big deal.

    Which issue is it that science can fix?

    Hey! They do business differently in Europe. We do the subsidizing thing here in the US. It's a common business practice that's been around since before the scientific Renaissance. No real science there.

    We have current missions to Mars working in real time right now Hank. We just don't have boots on the ground if you know what I mean.

    Personally, I doubt we ever will, in mine and your life time for very basic scientific reasons (low gravity).

    So which is the purpose of this site: bullets or science? Is it defense spending or science?

    I agree if your going to have an opposite or critical view of someone Else's ideas in the realm of science or the ethics of science, we should leave the rubbish outside by the curb.