If humans in space are happening any time soon, it will be despite government involvement rather than because of it. NASA couldn't even build a telescope without going 25 years and 1,000 percent over budget. By the time all cultural parties pick away at a manned space program, it will be so expensive and time-costly it won't be worthwhile, and the private sector will throw all that baggage out and just do it.

The James Webb Space Telescope program showed NASA is incapable of doing Big Engineering now, but they can put cute robots on other planets, and fund smaller projects, like how we might grow plants. Early results for how monitors that plants can wear and will stretch as plants grow are due to a NASA grant, and that is a very good thing.

Credit: 10.1016/j.device.2024.100322

The first result, after three years of work, is SPEARS2 - a  ‘Stretchable-Polymer-Electronics-based Autonomous Remote Strain Sensor.’ Since the time was spent in designing a material that could stretch well beyond the usual handful percentage points and last in a variety of conditions, like the high humidity of a greenhouse in space, proof of concept were things like oats and corn, because they grow uniformly up.

They were able to get stretching of 700 percent, well above the minimum 400 percent that would be needed for any food plant. The sensor response curve was created to emulate the stretching rate of a plant.

The monitors will eventually be able to send a signal to a central monitoring location, which could control nutrition.