Robotic Gardeners & the Future of Food in Deep Space


natural evolution of a society is to go out and explore it’s only natural that the next progression for the evolution of our species is to move off our home planet and out into the solar system here’s the thing eating is the most fundamental basic thing after breathing part of what I’m doing is producing robots that can garden in space how could it get any better than bloating in space and eating a fresh strawberry I can’t really think of anything better than that my name is Heather Nava and I am a PhD student at the University of Colorado in Boulder I study aerospace engineering sciences and specifically in the field of bio astronautics we really go into the depths of how you take care of living things in the space environment so I would consider myself a space gardener space farmer there are so many things that we take for granted here on earth that we have access to that compared to somebody who’s been eating dehydrated food or camping food or MRE meals ready to eat that kind of food is great and can sustain you for a long period of time but it doesn’t give you the enrichment of all the sensory input that you can get from food and those things are incredibly valuable to people and here on earth and in space plastic container with some dehydrated asparagus in this case only had 50 milliliters of water to it and takes five to 10 minutes to to rehydrate part of what we’re trying to do is ensure the astronauts eat enough food and one of the reasons they don’t is because the food itself is not particularly as appetizing as maybe our meals here on earth chocolate pudding cake looks like it too we want to try to counteract that by bringing plants into the space habitat so that not only the astronauts can have better quality of food better nutrition but they also can have access to nature while they’re away from the earth a graduate team here at the University got some funding through a program called exploration habitat challenge we built a couple different systems one of them we call spot it’s smart pot the other one we call Roger the remotely operated gardening robot and those two systems together can be used to grow plants in a space habitat so this is spot and there’s some some unique features about this growth chamber one it’s small and compact and it can be moved around and placed almost anywhere in a space habitat this enclosure right here allows us to control the environment have a microclimate for the plant so we can adjust temperature and humidity we have lighting that we can control individually for each plants and ventilations there’s a fan that we can control this is intended for the astronaut to actually be able to interact with the plant as well so that’s why the enclosure is clear we want them to be able to see the plant and we want them to be able to get access to the plant if the local user or the astronaut needs to get data about the health status of the plant they can come up here and use these buttons in the screen to actually look at what’s going on with the plant over the past several days but all that data is actually being sent back also to tell Operations Center where a remote operator can monitor control all the systems for the plant as well we have a water reservoir that has the nutrients for the plants here the water is recycled so the water in the reservoir is pumped up dripped onto the top and flows back down along the roots into the root zone and cycles back into the reservoir so that’s how we’re continually cycling the nutrients for the plant right here we have Roger also spot is sitting on the forklift that you can see that Roger has on the front so this mechanism is designed to be able to raise and lower spot and place it on to another surface basically Rogers a rover it’s designed to move around the habitat on its own autonomously it uses several cameras to drive there’s also another camera that would be on the arm of Roger that it could use for close-up inspection of spot a spot unit can actually call for Roger when it needs a care task the spot will send out a signal and call for Roger to come and service it it can pick up a spot unit and move it to another location in the habitat it can also refill the reservoir or inspect the plant and see if it’s ready for harvest the arm could actually harvest some of those leaves or fruits and take it back to the preparation area for the astronauts people’s misconception about robotic gardening is that you’re trying to replace the Hindman completely but really it’s more about enabling the optimization between people and the care tasks if an astronaut goes out and does a spacewalk on Mars for several days and is not there to take care of the plants we want them to be able to take care of themselves but when the astronaut comes back we want them to also be able to you know harvest their own salad if they so choose to really the integration between the robotics in the human is extremely important and the foundation of that is first understanding how does the human interact with a plant and what are the things that they really get out of that interaction the way we’re going to do that is these small growth chambers to smart pots are going to be sent down to Antarctica in that environment it’s very similar to a Mars mission people that overwinter in antarctica at the south pole are there for a very long period of time they can’t come or go and other people can’t come or go to rescue them if something went wrong they have delayed communications so a lot of the environment is very similar to a long-duration spaceflight people down there an isolated confined environment will actually be able to interact with the plants and will it be able to get data back in telemetry about the status of the plants and how well they’re doing we’ll be able to know if the people are actually taking care of the plants and that they’re doing well and how much they actually interact with them which care tests do they enjoy doing what are the actual benefits to their cognitive performance and their stress reduction that they get from interacting with the plants and they have a green house at the South Pole or they can grow fresh food lots of the people who are there actually enjoy going into the greenhouse not only to see the plants but to be able to smell the live living materials see the color changes feel the warm humid air those are all things that in a space habitat would be somewhat of a rare thing for somebody to have contact with you’re in a very stark and sterile machine environment one of the astronauts that’s been on Space Station recently was taken care of I experiment called veggie that’s growing lettuce and eventually other small vegetables for the astronauts and they’ve reported that they’ve really enjoyed taking care of the veggie experiments and they’ve also smen shinned things that they would like to have it in other parts of Space Station and they’d like to see more of these plants elsewhere once that can be quantified that actually could bring that break-even point where it’s more expensive to ship all your food than it is to ship the equipment and the materials you need to grow your food some interesting things happening in the commercial space field today is we have companies like SpaceX doing amazing things with sending the Dragon capsule up to Space Station but it’s been said that Elon Musk’s original dream was actually to grow plants or have a greenhouse on another planet like potentially Mars and that’s what led him down the path of doing commercial spaceflight in producing the Falcon 9 and the Dragon capsule so that we can actually realize that dream of having a greenhouse on Mars if the earth one day is no longer inhabitable we can still continue to progress and evolve by moving off our home planet and out into the solar system and the work that we’re doing now is going to ensure that capability in the future you

100 thoughts on “Robotic Gardeners & the Future of Food in Deep Space

  1. I can't even believe some of what I'm seeing in this comment section. We are on the verge of one of the most fundamentally important transitions in the history of known life, becoming an extra-planetary species, and people here are utterly baffled as to why we'd need to be looking into how to feed people in space? Can't you see that the lessons to learn from making Mars or any other space rock livable could vastly improve the productivity and prosperity of life back on Earth?

    Just think about the potential benefits of increasing human access to space: the engineering solutions, the scientific knowledge, & the vast resource/economic opportunities. Increased access to space will be a new frontier where efficiency, conservation, cooperation, and ingenuity are a matter of survival. Don't you think the Earth could use some lessons in these matters?

  2. Good luck surviving out in space where pretty much everything can kill you when we as a species are failing to maintain a planet we were evolved to flourish in.

  3. fock space. we still have just enough time to save this planet. fuck the other ones off and fuck wasting money on pointless exploration when we could feed the starving and start using green energy…. morons

  4. It's a nice concept but the model she's made looks extremely heavy and doesn't need to be that big, each gram adds to the costs massively when taking something up into space. Needs a lot of optimisation.

  5. this makes sense to me; i don't get u guys. like yeah we could all eat fuckn soylent in space for weeks on end, but that fuckn just sucks. if we have the technology to provide creature comforts like this, why not? creates jobs, anyway

  6. Why is it so fashionable these days to speak of this planet in the past tense? The going gets rough and all of the sudden it's time to jump ship and pack our things to ruin the lifeless wastes of space? This world is one in a million- it's not one of those things we can discard at a whim and expect to find something just as good. More importantly, the genetic history our species, tracing back eons, lies hidden within the animals that walk the earth today, and fossil record of their, and our ancestors deep down. If your even willing to entertain the notion that there is some meaning to life, the answer is in all likelihood here, not in the dark, empty abyss. 

    Instead of running from our problems why don't we try solving them for a change. 

  7. I don't mean to poop in your plasma, Heather but it seems to me that the best thing to do to sustain life in space would be to brew a nice bready whole beverage like beer first and then worry about solid food like strawberries secondarily.  The beer buzz will keep you sane and chill and the nutrients in the brew will keep you alive longer than most anything else on earth save for whole milk.  Hell you can even harvest the alcohol as a fuel source.  Next up I'll pontificate on farming crickets in zero gravity and give you a nice recipe for cricket flour pancakes. 

  8. Wheels? Did they forget that those do not work in micro-gravity?
    On the top of my head I can come up with a much better design. Less moving parts and more designed for micro-gravity.

    What about the water system? It depends on gravity too.

    The design should not depend on a certain gravity level. For crying out loud!

  9. How should the robot work without gravity? it can't drive around in space… or do you wanna create a spaceship with artificial gravity to opperate it?

  10. Do you guys think humans will completely fuck up the planet and leave to live somewhere else, OR do you think they'll fix the problems we have here first THEN venture into outer space?

  11. lots of problems – watering in space? lmao okay!  – size and space of that robot rover – too big it's easier and faster to just train someone to work with the plants personally – energy – it takes more energy than it outputs… the smart move is to grow marijuana in illegal zones via a robot and lots of security protocols – cant arrest a robot LOL – she's hot but wow she needs to work on her makeup :'))

  12. Probably a great PhD study, lots of automatisation and controlling. But the whole "gardening in space story"? A bit unrealistic. Why load a robot, probably heavier than a human, into a rocket to do some gardening? And if astronauts are happier when they take care of plants, why replace them with robots?

  13. so astronauts are vegetarians? or are they supposed to grow their veggies and eat canned meat? they should think about getting this to the next level: raising livestock, rabbits or the like, and having to prepare these for food (yes: it's butchering the bunny or me hungry). talking about stress release, THAT would be the whole experience! not only astronauts happily growing some lettuce.

  14. the next step about evolution is not what she says that's not true or a good idea at all. the next step for the human race is to have robots fulfill simple or tedious tasks referring to our basic needs. once they have capability of controlling that for us, we humans can dedicate more time to whatever we want. ( after that happens then we can adapt to space, let's not get ahead ourselves ma'am.)

  15. LOL it seems clearly they are unaware of several issues occuring on space travel missions: all their systems (roger on WHEELS – plant pot recycling water in the below water reservoir…) are ok on earth with GRAVITY 🙂

  16. "Eating is the most fundamental, basic thing after breathing". Uhhh I think people die of dehydration faster than starvation lol.

  17. Damn… too bad she is working for NASA, they fake everything including landing on the moon because it is impossible even with todays technology to get past the Van Allen belts. Whats even more sickening is that NASA created a umbilical tube that was created to direct these belts away from earth so they could put more satellites in space, but they didn't care to think of the side effects like less protection from the radiation of the sun causing changes in the global climate. (Proof can simply be found by searching youtube) NASA 'accidentally' drains the van allen belts

  18. Lol! "A space walk ON Mars." What? Wouldn't that be 'A walk on Mars' or something along the lines. You are inside of Mars and a space walk requires you to be in orbit/in outer space or am I missing something?

  19. "Floating in space and eating a fresh straw berry I can't really think of anything better that that " I can it's eating a fresh strawberry covered in chocolate in space

  20. I would ask for my money back. It is clear that they lack the very basics on so many levels. From lack of gravity which plants need to grow properly, to overly complicating simple solutions, to down right errors made with lighting wavelengths. I don't care that is is a "prototype". Prototypes are to show proof of concept, not to show ascetics. Where are the controls? Where are the studies they conducted? What research did they do or source? None is the answer. An utter joke.

  21. I'm pretty sure NASA has plans for greenhouses that are light and more suitable for space that can keep alive more plants in a given space.

    What she invented here is poor engineering.
    Heavy metal pots that can only hold one plant.
    A mini robot to "take care of the plants" why?

  22. Very insightful for maintaining little living things in a machine environment with artificial atmospheres. I think that i will not consider Mars to be a habitable planet until we can grow trees there.

  23. it's all very interesting, but what about low pressure. because plants react differently to the pressure, some of course becomes better by it but some might not grow very well in it.

  24. K, I know this video is over 2 years old, but I think the idea is ridiculous. It's not scalable. You can't have individual "smart pots" for every single plant you want to grow. If you want to make food production in space self-sustainable, you need to be able to produce a lot of food very quickly in as little space as possible. This project doesn't do anything close to that and it's not a step in that direction either. The clear intention of the project is to have a little pod to grow a single plant that you can move around with a robot. And the robot is even more ludicrous! Why on Earth(/space;) would you need an autonomous, mobile robot (that won't even work in microgravity) to do "care tasks"?? What!? An astronaut cannot be on a spacewalk for SEVERAL DAYS! He's at least going to need to eat some of the food that you're growing insanely inefficiently. This is not a proof of concept project, it appears to be intended as a final product with all the time they've put into the nonfunctional aspects. If you want to make a realistic space farm you're going to need to develop high-density, automated, aeroponic systems. There's a lot of work to be done there! As it stands, aeroponic/hydroponic vertical farms are very limited in what plants are efficient to grow. Work on that! I can't believe that their project got funded to be tested in Antarctica! Huh? Did no one listen to the proposal? The only redeeming thing I can find about this whole concept is that maybe they developed better sensors and ways to monitor plant health that WILL be scalable. And maybe it would be worthwhile to investigate how caring for plants affects psychological conditions in isolated environments (if that hasn't already been done). I'm sure I'm missing some of the nuances of the project and all I'm getting is the woman in the video's perspective, but from what I can see this idea seems fundamentally flawed.

  25. It just dawned on me that if a greenhouse was positively pressurized that it could be run as a standard electronics manufacturing clean room and could be well adapted to vertical farming completely free of insecticides.
    The technology that this young woman is sharing should be shared with the commercial world.
    I assume that she is with NASA, WOW, you could power the whole thing with #LENR. NASA, get with it!

  26. Pretty cool plant machine, and great technology. but how does the system contain the water so it doesnt float away. were talking about zero gravity here. water sprays the roots. awsome, but in zero gravity, I dont believe the water will free flow back to the container to be pumped back.

  27. Nice video!! Great information! I hope they're working on a SPOT that can grow plants in a gravity-free environment. I bet today's astronauts would love that!!

  28. Your eye shaddow is not well blended.. That color is good for nightclubbing and not for interview. Very disturbing

  29. Stop wasting tax payers money with idiotic research and put it into real research with real life applications.

  30. 0:36 "I can't think of anything better than that" well maybe you can help your "society" to stop crime, misery and poverty (just three examples) and then go to space gardening.

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