The idea of living in planet Mars is still a far cry from our current reality. But inch by inch, we’re getting closer to that day when humans will finally conquer the Red Planet. A group of students at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University are working on a prototype of a robotically controlled space garden which, if successful, will be used by NASA next summer.
The robotic garden is part of this year’s NASA-sponsored X-Hab competition that aims to develop deep space habitats and concepts that could be used by astronauts. If the project is completed, the students are hoping that its robotic garden will be able to grow, harvest and compost a variety of plants that astronauts can use as food.
Apparently the team already has a prototype of a growing environment for autonomous plant production in the University’s computer science department for the last two years. The students explained that its existing system will be enhanced to perform four major tasks – seeding, monitoring of plant growth, harvesting, and processing of crop residue to recycle nutrients back into the system.
“Psychology is a major driver of how well people can survive in isolated, confined environments. Picking the tasks to automate and determining if there is a way to mix automation with some manual tasks, like picking the fruit, are part of the project,” Christine Fanchiang, a graduate student in Aerospace Engineering Sciences commented. The robotic garden will be funded by a grant of $40,000 to ensure that the project is sustainable and successful.