BASF Backs ‘Space Farming’ Project That Could Help Astronauts Get to Mars

The chemicals giant is working with three students to see if crops can be grown from cuttings in microgravity.

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It can take nearly a year to journey through space to Mars. Among the challenges scientists are working to solve to make the trip doable for astronauts is creating a stable food supply.

Now chemicals giant BASF is supporting a research project by three 12th grade students from Edith Stein School in Ravensburg, Germany that’s meant to discover if high-quality food crops and veggies can be grown in microgravity.

Generally, roots rely on the flow of gravity to grow towards the earth’s center, while leaves grow towards the sun. In the past, experiments in microgravity have focused on growth from seedling’s roots. Instead, the students will attempt to use cuttings to reproduce crops and answer a question BASF calls “simple but groundbreaking:” Can cuttings grow a root system without gravity to guide them?

If successful, the development would be a major milestone for long-distance space travel, including trips to Mars.

“We are excited about this project and about working with forward-thinking young people who strive for groundbreaking ideas and innovations,” said Dr. Herald Rand, senior vice president research & development, BASF Crop Protection.

The students will do an internship with BASF in Germany before doing trials at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The experiment will then lift off and be taken to the International Space Station by the end of 2015. BASF will also provide the know-how to keep the plants from fungal disease for the 30 days they’re in space.

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