NASA's Robo-Garden Is a Terra-Forming Trifecta

Colonizing Mars is a Sisyphean task—we'll have to produce our own food, water, and most importantly, our own atmosphere. This new robotic aerogarden, however, could produce all three.

The grow system is being designed by a team of students from the Colorado University, Boulder and Colorado State as part of the X-Hab competition—an annual engineering contest that aims to develop new space-exploration technologies via a year-long $40,000 grant.

As PopSci explains:

The completed project will be able to grow, harvest and compost a variety of plants which astronauts can cultivate for food. The plants would also purify water and provide oxygen. It will give isolated, lonely space travelers something to do, as well as something to take care of - the responsibility can be a psychological boost, according to the CU students. Choosing which tasks to automate and which to do manually, like picking the fruit, are part of the project, according to aerospace engineering sciences graduate student Christine Fanchiang, who is co-leading the Colorado team's effort.

The team already has a working aeroponic prototype, which they plan to build upon with their $40,000 X-Hab grant during the next year. The system will eventually be able to plant seeds, monitor plant growth, harvest the plants and even process crop waste, recycling nutrients back into the system.

The team must deliver an operational prototype by next summer, but if they do, future colonists could one day be treated to dinner and a show on their way to Mars. [Colorado University via PopSci via PCW - Image: Daniel Zukowski, CU-Boulder]