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When most people wonder how astronauts eat, their first thought is probably pouches, cans and tubes. Yet even for these often concentrated forms of food, there simply isn't enough room on board spaceships and space stations to spend lengthy periods in space, such as traveling to Mars or colonizing the moon. What's more, the nutrients contained in naturally grown food, such as vitamins, aren't just healthier - they usually taste better, too. That's just one reason why research is now underway on how food can be produced even in conditions that are hostile to plants and people. One of the most comprehensive projects in this area is probably the EDEN ISS greenhouse project, led by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) based in Cologne. As part of this project, DLR scientist Paul Zabel has just spent a whole year in the Antarctic permafrost growing vegetables without soil and in artificial light. He was part of the overwintering crew at the Neumayer III Antarctic research station, operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI).

When the EDEN ISS team presented the results of the project to date, the researchers were not just astonished at how high the yields were and how little energy was required. They were also taken aback at how the overwintering team's mood and well-being had clearly been fortified by the fresh produce. However, it also became clear that further significant cuts are needed in the workload for supporting and maintaining the system to save valuable time for astronauts in the future. Nevertheless, the scientists have successfully used the results and experiences of the EDEN ISS project to develop a new, compact greenhouse concept for the moon and Mars that can be launched using a Falcon 9 rocket. In the meantime, the Antarctic greenhouse is going from strength to strength and is open to research groups worldwide. "Future, long-term crewed space missions will require locally grown food. EDEN ISS has proven the feasibility of a space greenhouse in the Antarctic and thus demonstrated that this technology could also be used to produce food on the moon and Mars," says Professor Hansjörg Dittus, DLR Executive Board Member for Space Research and Technology. "The space greenhouse concept now being presented is a valuable foundation on which we wish to develop further research work."

Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e. V. (DLR) (51147 Cologne, Germany)
www.dlr.de