Lettuce in Space? LED Research May Help Grow Food On Other Planets

Farming on other planets? Thirty years ago ideas like that were the stuff of B-movies, and science fiction novels. Today it is something that is seriously being considered as agricultural technology continues to develop. Mike Dixon, an environmental biology professor in Ontario has been working with his team to lay the foundations for agricultural pursuits in space by developing LED technology to help make certain plants more productive.

Any farmer will tell you that the main ingredient necessary for plants to grow is light and good soil. In space and in a secure indoor environment (the kind that would be used on a space station or “space farm”) both would be extremely limited. Dixon’s current research focuses particularly on figuring out which LED wavelengths make crops more productive. In a special LED-testing lab he works steadily on creating a special “recipe of light”, a combination of the best wavelengths that will produce the most ideal growing conditions. There are nearly an infinite number of permutations which may make finding the perfect combination difficult, but Dixon remains hopeful.

Dixon believes eventually the strides he makes now will have a far reaching impact on both space travel, and our ability to colonize sister planet Mars or the Moon. The end goal is to build agricultural installations that can perpetuate nutritious food indefinitely or even create space farms in space stations and shuttles. This will require highly sensitive environmental control and life support systems that can help grow plants and sustain them. Unfortunately, this technology is still in the development stage. Dixon knows that there are a number of obstacles to overcome before we’d be anywhere near building our first Mars Farm. By laying the groundwork now, he hopes that his advances in LED technology will help make “space farming” a reality in the future.

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