Technology advancements have been significantly fueled by space exploration. Space agriculture is boldly growing food where no one has grown it before.
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There is a heated debate over whether to invest money in space exploration or use it to address pressing issues on Earth, like climate change and food shortages. However, one argument in favor of space exploration focuses on advantages that actually aid in the study, monitoring, and resolution of important issues like food production and climate change.
As access to space expands, so does the possibilities for terrestrial benefits directly related to space exploration.
Agriculture, for instance, has benefited significantly from the application of space-based breakthroughs to terrestrial challenges. Food items, such as freeze-dried foods, are increasingly likely to have been manufactured with the aid of space-based innovations, such as crop monitoring from space-based observatories.
Satellite surveillance is debatably the most widely recognized advantage of space for farming. Satellites keep watch over farmlands all over the world day and night, like attentive eyes in the sky. Various parameters that are pertinent to agriculture are monitored by specialized sensors on pertinent satellites, such as NASA’s Landsat, the European Space Agency’s Envisat, and the Canadian Space Agency’s RADARSAT.
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The timing and rate of soil drying can be determined by sensors monitoring soil moisture, which enables more effective irrigation planning at the regional level. Drought, flood, precipitation pattern, and plant disease outbreaks can all be predicted with the help of weather satellites.
We can predict crop failures or threats to food security using satellite data.
Space is home to more than just lifeless machines. In low-Earth orbit, humans have been able to live and raise plants on a number of spacecraft and stations. Due to novel stressors like cosmic radiation and a lack of gravity, space is the quintessential “harsh environment” for life to exist in, including plants.
Plants have the ability to “reach into their genetic toolbox and remake the tools they need” to acclimate to the alien environment of space, according to space biologist Anna-Lisa Paul. In order to overcome the difficulties facing crops in the face of the changing climate on Earth, it may be possible to use the new tools and behaviors that plants exhibit while in space.
To better comprehend how cotton roots grow in the lack of gravity, NASA scientists sent cotton seeds to the International Space Station. The research’s conclusions will be used to create cotton plant varieties with deeper roots so they can access and absorb water from the soil in drought-prone areas more effectively.
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Specialized systems that offer the circumstances required for plant cultivation in space are being developed by space agencies. These are containers with climate control that can also grow plants in the absence of soil under LED lighting. The modern vertical farm sector—indoor farms that grow crops in stacks without soil under the purplish haze of LEDs—was founded on NASA’s research in controlled environment systems to grow plants.
Vertical farms, nowadays a booming industry, produce vast quantities of fresh and healthy leafy crops with a small fraction of the water and nutrients needed in land-based farming systems. Urban vertical farms can be built right where there is a need, eliminating the need for long-distance transportation.
Vertical farms can significantly decrease the need for herbicides and pesticides by growing crops indoors in controlled environments, recycling water, and preventing nutrient runoff.
Space agriculture, Earth benefits
Crop production methods must be more energy-efficient and require minimal human labor because of the limitations of space. Crops must also be nutrient-dense and able to withstand stressful environments. The Earth’s crops would benefit from having these characteristics.
Researchers are working on a potato crop (read below) that uses fewer resources and allows for consumption of the entire plant, including the roots, shoots, and fruits. In order to address food and nutritional security on Earth and in space, such crops will be crucial.
Technology advancements have been significantly fueled by space exploration. The resurgence of interest in space can only advance agriculture on Earth by opening up new possibilities. Out-of-this-world innovations can give us the tools we need to address food production in the face of the impending threats posed by global climate change.
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