NASA Fellow Invents a Space Gardening Robot that Can Grow Fruits and Vegetables on Mars

Tuesday, 19 April 2016 - 1:41PM
NASA
Mars
Tuesday, 19 April 2016 - 1:41PM
NASA Fellow Invents a Space Gardening Robot that Can Grow Fruits and Vegetables on Mars
Are we getting closer to being able to sustain a human colony on Mars? MIT engineering student and NASA fellow Heather Hava has just invented a robotic garden that could grow fresh fruits and vegetables in space.



Hava, a self-proclaimed "space gardener" who won one of the top 2016 Lemelson-MIT Student Prizes, has developed robots that have the ability to garden in off-Earth environments. So far, the robots have been demonstrated to harvest strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and leafy vegetables, like kale and basil.

The robot--called the SmartPot (SPOT)--is a hydroponic garden, meaning it sustains plant life entirely on a cycle of water and nutrients, and sensors in the garden track metrics such as water temperature, pH level, and humidity. The sensors then connect to an AI app that allows astronauts and NASA employees to monitor the plants' progress. 

SPOT isn't completely self-sufficient, as it requires humans to replace the water and harvest the fruits and vegetables, which Hava claims is therapeutic for the astronauts:

Opening quote
"[Fresh produce] is one of the biggest boosts of morale for astronauts," Hava told Tech Insider. "Now they get to watch the strawberry grow, see the it develop, turn from pink to red. There's a psychological benefit through those visual cues. And at the end, you get the prize."
Closing quote

The applications of this technology are seemingly endless. Hava has patented a geodesic dome structure for on-Earth applications like disaster relief and sustainable housing, and HAVA is moving forward with plans to use the technology on Mars. She will next test SPOT at the Mars Desert Research Station, an on-Earth simulation of the Mars environment, and hopes that it can be expanded to sustain an entire Mars colony. 

Opening quote
"This is just the beginning," she said.
Closing quote
Science
Space
NASA
Mars

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