It looks like a toaster oven, but this modular unit is part of a project by Border Labs to grow plants for astronauts. The project, AstroPlant, is partnered with ESA’s (European Space Agency) MELiSSA, which is focused on creating sustainable extraterrestrial life. The team is exploring a solution for space farming and is set to use citizen science for testing. Although the project began back in 2016, this year’s hackathon in the Netherlands took the idea to prototyping stage. A post on SpaceRef describes the project:
AstroPlant is a citizen science initiative that aims to inspire home-gardeners, schools, urban farmers and enthusiasts to nourish seeds selected by the MELiSSA team. Data recorded via a smartphone app will be sent to ESA for processing.
According to the lab’s Meetup group, they recently pitched their project in Italy with a full mock-up including lighting, sensors and plants. They are attracting partnerships from companies exploring vertical farming and lighting.
For now the goal is to create ten kits, and once they have gathered feedback they will make the final kit available for citizen scientists. The group’s enthusiasm centers on open source solutions and they have been working with MELiSSA member Christel Paille, a chemist, in developing the kit. In fact, the team recently posted an early interview which helped to guide the idea. The considerations regarding plant data, environmental data and possible seed choices are fascinating. Christel is definitely in favor of the initiative.
“Getting the data we need on our own would take centuries because we would need to grow each plant ourselves. Using a citizen science initiative like this is new for ESA but has great potential.
I’ve attempted to reach out to the lab for a kit as they are taking pre-orders, so we’ll see what happens. For now I’m just happy to see a group of people with diverse skills come together to help gardens in space. If you have your own interest in helping gardens on this planet, you should check out our Wireless Gardening learning guide that will show you how to connect your little piece of land to the net. You would be surprised what you can do with an Arduino, a CC3000 breakout board and a soil temperature/moisture sensor. Get in touch with your earth.