Plants will play a critical role in the survival of human beings on long-duration space missions, probably beginning pretty soon with a mission to Mars. Plants can adapt to extreme environments on Earth, and model plants have been shown to grow and develop through a full life cycle in microgravity. In space, long-term human space exploration missions require a life support system in which higher plants play a vital role. Growing crops in space is as much about developing the humans’ technological capacity to provide plants with adequate growth conditions in the unique microgravity environment, as is about the symbiotic relationship between plants and space travelers. After several decades of research, we have learned a lot about the impediments to growing plants in microgravity, in outer space, and on other planets. As human space exploration advances, we should feel confident about our ability to grow plants on board spacecraft during long-term space missions, on the Moon, and on other planets. Plants will require specialized environments for growth and development in microgravity, but – at least on a small scale – we already know how to produce such growth chambers and greenhouses.
Part of the book: Into Space