Journalist – Concerned with Tech Censorship, Sustainable Food Systems, Space Exploration
With all the push towards reaching Moon and Mars in the next fews, many are wondering what importance does this have, when some many of our issues here feel far away from being solved.
One of the biggest challenges humanity has is food security and production. True, all sorts of technologies exist and at the first glance of things it appears we have an abundance of food resources available, however things are not what they seem.
If our present trajectory continues we will reach 11 billion people according the UN by 2100. While we may be able to sustain that many with current food technology, the food production cycle in its current form for that many people is unsustainable. The more people means the more resources we need to produce more food, which in its current structure strips away top soil at an exponential rate, requiring more fertilizer and more outside inputs to the food production system. This will cascade.
Savor The Advances In Sustainable Agriculture
Current sustainable agriculture technologies and methods like hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, and synthetic biological modifications are already affecting the way food is being produced. What used to take acres of land to do, an empty warehouse in the middle of a city can produce.
Lab grown meat is in its early stages, but given that land being used for animal production accounts for 26 percent of the Earth’s service, the advances in this area are critical in helping to cut down on resource depletion and pollution.
How Does Space Colonization Fit Into All Of This?
It has been well known for years that any permanent space colony, whether that is a Moon base or Mars colony will need to find ways to produce food on its own in order to be truly viable. After all, especially when it comes to Mars and beyond, resupplies from Earth would take far too long.
This is why perfecting sustainable techniques in food production is key to the long term viability of any human presence in space. There is no option for wasting anything as the necessity for building a systemic food production system that is truly self sufficient is key. This means that any food production system must from the outset be built to survive without the need for external inputs into the system, while maximizing positive outputs that can be utilized elsewhere in the colonization process.
Make no mistake, most space colonists will be using vertical farming, hydro/aeroponics and artificially lit micro-green production facilities in the early days. These can and will produce an ongoing form of nutrients to the colonists.
However, these modes of food production on a non Earth body will ultimately not meet the sustainable nature of what is needed as all these draw from external inputs, most notably fertilizers and artificial lighting.
These of course can be developed on the Moon or Mars through the recycling of waste products and solar energy. However, both systems of complex and are not perfect. Most likely the nutrient used in many aeroponic and hydroponic systems would still need to be brought in. Solar energy would be intermittent on Mars due to the potential for sand storms. It is one thing for humans to live a few days without light as the colony conserves power, but plants would die.
One of the ways these systems can be made more efficient is through space synthetic biology. By tweaking the genetics of plants, colonists will be able to grow vegetables that still produce high yields in low sunlight, and with less artificial fertilizer. These plants over time would learn to adapt to their new world and become a unique extraterrestrial plant.
Building Soil Is Key
Any solution to food security when it comes to long term colonization has to take into using the environment of these extraterrestrial bodies as a basis for tightening up a sustainable system.
Using soil permaculture principles as a basis for long term food production will be key for permanent colonies in space. This involves building real soil, utilizing topography to increase yield and water catchment techniques. While there will not be any rain on either the Moon or Mars there are other water sources and using them in a sustainable manner is key.
Ultimately we will have to create a unique type of soil for each body we colonize. Through a mixture of waste and the indigenous regolith, something new will be born – the first non-Earth soil.
Research and development is well along the way to learning how to utilize the regolith on both Mars and the Moon to create soil for plants. Bases and colonies may be enclosed in order to shield from radiation and retain Earth like pressure, but the regolith and rock underneath can be used when blended in the right mixture with compost to build sustainable ecosystems.
Proper soil takes time to build, but once built can augment the needed hydroponics or aeroponics facilities and lend to the growth of unique plant species that will eventually become indigenous to these new places.
Colonists will need to feel like they are living in a new Earth, not in a base or the biophilia we are all born with, meaning the innate longing to be connected to other living organisms, will express itself in many different negative ways. Only real soil, tweaked for whatever planetary body we rest on can ensure long term habitability as well as the building blocks to creating a sustainable environment despite the distance from Earth.
Now Back To Earth
Since humans left Earth’s orbit and began exploring space, the technologies developed in order to get there and thrive have led to amazing changes back here.
Besides the microchips, portable computers, and overall advances in how we research for science, NASA lists 20 inventions space flight made possible.
We are in a food security and production crisis. Yet, just like space exploration facilitated the development of so many other things, it appears to be the key to helping us with our need for sustainable food production system here on Earth.
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