There are several things science fiction ignores completely: The enormous distance to neighboring planets; the beyond a human lifetime it would take to reach them; gravity; and food and water along with how to bring and store suffcient quantities for space travelers; and the desire of the people on long voyages to want to kill one another (among many, many others, to be sure). But then, that’s why it’s called science FICTION!
On the NASA website this week under Space Station Research was a piece about testing the growing of vegtables and fruits in space. It made me think about a visit my wife and I paid to the BioSphere2 a few months ago. Currently owned and operated by the University of Arizona, it’s billed as an “earth systems science research facility” located just north of Tuscon in Oracle, AZ.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of talk about how we were destroying our planet (sound familiar?) and perhaps we could put a colony on Mars or populate the moon. Thus began the project known as BioSphere2 (Earth is the original BioSphere). Out in the Arizona desert, a 3 acre “earth” was recreated complete with a million-gallon “ocean”, a rainforest, a mangrove swamp, agricultural areas as well as human living/working quarters all under a canopy of glass and steel. The BioSphere2 was (and is) quite the engineering wonder. It has artificial “lungs” to clean the air and a human waste processing center.
Long before the arrival of reality television, 8 crew members made a 2 year committment to have no contact with the outside world and remain sealed into this giant terrarium. Given the amount of human drama produced during the two years, this experiement may have been the inspiration for “Big Brother” and “Survivor“! The BioSphere2 became as much a study in human psychology as it did in “earth sciences”! In fact, in exit interviews all of the participants cited their favorite part of their experience to be 3 things: private quarters (not having to share a room), the link to an experiment on Antarctica and the electronic mail system which allowed them to maintain some contact with their lives outside the dome.
Inside they grew their own food, took turns cooking, doing the dishes and other chores while carefully monitoring their health and vital statistics. It was in the living quarters portion of the walking tour that we learned the most interesting tidbits. Seems that while the 4 women and 4 men each benefitted from the plant based diet in terms of reduced cholesterol and blood pressure, they also suffered from fatigue, lack of motivation and hypoxia. They also noted how challenging it was to consume enough calories each day as well as the creativity needed to make another bean stew edible! And, as a side note, it STINKS in there! The “fertile” aroma could drive anyone NUTS!
The first 2 year experiment was completed to much media fanfare but was ultimately deemed a failure. One crew member snuck in duffle bags of who knows what, all the test subjects had lost weight to almost dangerous levels and it was only with an eye on the calendar that a murder wasn’t committed! A second attempt was aborted shortly after it began and the facility became an “open” research lab as it is today.
So NASA, while fresh vegtables and fruit in space might offer a welcome break from freeze-dried ice cream, what your astronauts would probably appreciate most of all would be a hot, sizzling Ruth’s Chris STEAK!!!!!
John Murphy is the author of Mission Veritas…Candidates for an elite fighting force must qualify on a planet of truth.
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