NASA’s contributions to vertical farming

R.M. Wheeler
NASA and other space agencies have an interest in using plants for human life support in space. The plants could provide food and O2 for the humans, while removing CO2 and helping purify wastewater. To achieve this will require controlled environment agriculture where mass, power and volume must be optimized, and water and nutrients recycled. To test this, NASA operated its Biomass Production Chamber at Kennedy Space Center from 1987 through 2000. The chamber contained vertically stacked hydroponic (NFT) growing trays and HPS lamp banks to be volume efficient. Nutrient solutions were recirculated continuously for all tests, and condensed humidity recycled back to the plants. For some studies, inedible biomass was processed in bioreactors to recycle nutrients back to the plants. Results showed that a wide range of crops could be grown in controlled environment conditions envisioned for space, including field agronomic crops such as wheat, soybean, rice, and potato. This was perhaps one of the first examples of a vertical farm. Findings from these and related tests suggest that with ≥40 mol m‑2 day‑1 of PAR, about 20-25 m2 of crops could supply the O2 for one human, while about 50 m2 would be required for food (dietary energy).
Wheeler, R.M. (2023). NASA’s contributions to vertical farming. Acta Hortic. 1369, 1-14
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2023.1369.1
bioregenerative, CEA, hydroponics, LED, lighting, photosynthesis

Acta Horticulturae