Skip to Content

Growing Food Fit for the Moon

Researchers have demoed a prototype lunar greenhouse, showing plants can be grown without soil.
September 15, 2010

Researchers at the University of Arizona have developed a greenhouse that grows plants without soil. The prototype greenhouse is an 18-foot long tube that contains water-cooled sodium vapor lamps and “envelopes” to hold the seeds.

The prototype greenhouse. Credit: University of Arizona

It’s dubbed the lunar greenhouse. The idea is that something similar could one day supply food to astronauts on the moon or Mars. It would be buried beneath the moon’s surface, so to not be destroyed by cosmic rays and solar flares, and would be operated autonomously, so that food could be ready when astronauts arrive. A lunar greenhouse could be essential for colonizing the moon, which has no atmosphere, no natural water, and extreme temperatures.

The Arizona system works by feeding carbon dioxide into the greenhouse through pressurized tanks. At a lunar base astronauts would provide carbon dioxide by breathing, and water for the plants could be extracted from their urine. Sunlight could be channeled to the underground plants through fiber optic cables.

According to the Arizona researchers, led by Gene Giacomelli, the system contains about 100 kilograms of wet plant material that can provide 53 quarts of drinkable water and a small amount of oxygen during a 24-hour period, while consuming about 100 kilowatts of electricity and half a kilogram of carbon dioxide. It can even be collapsed into a four-foot wide disk for interplanetary travel and deployed in less than ten minutes.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

tonga eruption
tonga eruption

Tonga’s volcano blast cut it off from the world. Here’s what it will take to get it reconnected.

The world is anxiously awaiting news from the island—but on top of the physical destruction, the eruption has disconnected it from the internet.

mouse engineered to grow human hair
mouse engineered to grow human hair

Going bald? Lab-grown hair cells could be on the way

These biotech companies are reprogramming cells to treat baldness, but it’s still early days.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.