Mike Dixon wants to send plants to Mars. Growing crops in space is the best way to provide proper nutrition to the crew on a long-duration mission, this University of Guelph researcher believes—but because there’s no manned mission to Mars scheduled at the moment, it’s hard to get funding for this type of research.
By Brian Owens | MOTHERBOARD
In the meantime, he and a growing number of other botanists are studying a plant where there’s plenty of funding right now, in Canada anyway: cannabis.
“We’re going to have to take plants [to space],” said Dixon, director of Guelph’s Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility, a low-slung, bunker-like building focused on developing plant-based life support systems for space travel. (He was talking about food crops, like lettuce and tomatoes.) “We don’t have the mass and energy budget to carry enough food to keep a crew going indefinitely. You have to have some bioregenerative food production system. So we’re not leaving the planet without them.”
The problem is, designing, building and perfecting those systems is expensive. So Dixon also works with Earth-based horticultural industries, focused mostly on food crops and ornamental plants, that are interested in solutions to some of the same problems that long-haul astronauts will face: how to indefinitely recycle water and nutrients, for example, or how to avoid using toxic chemicals as disinfectants.