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Research and Academics
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Robots with Green Thumbs in Space: Yes, It Could Happen
NASA is working with graduate students on a system for astronauts to grow their own food with the help of robots
By Judith Pfeffer - Filed Jul 10, 2014

Heather Hava shows off some ripe produce grown by her team at University of Colorado at Boulder.

More Research and Academics stories
Robots gardening in space. Yes, you read that right. Astronauts need to eat, and the government and a small group of graduate students are figuring out a way to grow food with help from robots to grow fruits and vegetables on the way to another planet.

The University of Colorado Boulder team’s entry in the eXploration HABitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge is called “Plants Anywhere: Plants Growing in Free Habitat Spaces.” This approach calls for plants to be distributed in any available space in a deep-space habitat.

Heather Hava who is working on a doctorate in aerospace engineering sciences and bioastronautics, says it’s best for robots to do the grunt work to take the burden off the human astronauts.

Students from the University of Colorado at Boulder presented their project June 23 to staff at the Kennedy Space Station, including director, Bon Cabana.

“The ‘Plants Anywhere’ approach is designed to help minimize astronaut workload,” said Hava. “This keeps them free to concentrate on more important tasks.”

She and her team are working closely with NASA officials.

A Remotely Operated Gardening Rover, or ROGR, takes care of SmartPots, or SPOTS, distributed throughout the deep-space habitat’s living space. ROGR robots can visit a specific plant to deliver water or to locate and grasp a fruit or vegetable

“We want to optimize a system allowing the humans to get psychological benefits from interacting with the plants,” Hava said in video interview produced by the University of Colorado Boulder. “We also want the plants to be in the astronauts’ environment so they can see them, smell them and be around them. Who doesn’t love to pick a fresh strawberry?” she says in the video.

Strawberries, tomatoes, basil and peas are among the plants Hava is test-growing under lights in the laboratory.

Meanwhile, maybe someone else will invent a robot this summer that will help the relative“brown thumbs” like yours truly right here on Earth to be able to grow their own food.



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