T. Tibbitts, R. Bula, R. Corey, R. Morrow
Higher plants are being evaluated for life support to provide needed food, oxygen and water as well as removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The successful utilization of plants in space will require the development of not only highly productive growing systems but also highly efficient bioregenerative systems. It will be necessary to recycle all inedible plant parts and all human wastes so that the entire complement of elemental compounds can be reused. Potatoes have been proposed as one of the desirable crops because they are 1) extremely productive, yielding more than 100 metric tons per hectare from field plantings, 2) the edible tubers are high in digestible starch (70%) and protein (10%) on a dry weight basis, 3) up to 80% of the total plant production is in tubers and thus edible, 4) the plants are easily propagated either from tubers or from tissue culture plantlets, 5) the tubers can be utilized with a minimum of processing, and 6) potatoes can be prepared in a variety of different forms for the human diet (Tibbitts et al., 1982).

However potatoes have a growth pattern that complicates the development of growing the plants in controlled systems. Tubers are borne on underground stems that are botanically termed 'rhizomes', but in common usage termed 'stolons'. The stolons must be maintained in a dark, moist area with sufficient provision for enlargement of tubers. Stems rapidly terminate in flowers forcing extensive branching and spreading of plants so that individual plants will cover 0.2 m2 or more area. Thus the growing system must be developed to provide an area that is darkened for tuber and root growth and of sufficient size for plant spread.

A system developed for growing potatoes, or any plants, in space will have certain requirements that must be met to make them a useful part of a life support system.

The system must 1) be constructed of materials, and involve media, that can be reused for many successive cycles of plant growth, 2) involve a minimum quantity of media, 3) contain media that is essentially inert and not oxidize or degrade with use, 4) utilize a recirculating nutrient solution to permit regulation of pH and nutrient concentrations, and 5) be capable of complete automation of all planting, maintenance and harvesting procedures.

Tibbitts, T., Bula, R., Corey, R. and Morrow, R. (1988). CULTURAL SYSTEMS FOR GROWING POTATOES IN SPACE. Acta Hortic. 230, 287-290
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1988.230.36

Acta Horticulturae