What is a plant growth chamber, and why is it of interest to NASA?
A plant growth chamber is a facility that allows plants to grow with controlled temperature, light, humidity, atmosphere (including carbon dioxide and oxygen concentrations), moisture and nutrient delivery. Plant growth chambers attempt to provide, in space, all of the things plants normally need to grow on Earth.
NASA is interested in this type of facility because plants will play an extraordinarily important role in allowing humans to explore destinations like the moon and Mars. Plants will provide fresh food, oxygen and even reminders of home. Only plants can recycle atmospheric carbon dioxide (exhaled by astronauts when they breathe) back into useful oxygen. Astronauts could run out of oxygen on long-duration missions unless they have plants to regenerate their atmosphere.
How do you grow plants on the moon? And how do you start a farm on the surface of the moon?
The challenge faced by lunar farmers (e.g. astronauts) is that the moon has no atmosphere, no liquid water and no "normal" nutritional components in the soil. There is no enclosed shelter, such as a greenhouse. There is blinding sunlight during the moon's "day," with intense heat. The nights are extremely cold with temperatures well below freezing. The day and night cycles are longer, there is potential exposure to cosmic radiation, and only one-sixth the gravity of Earth. Under these inhospitable conditions, growing plants is a challenge.
The answer to this challenge is to design and build a growth chamber - a greenhouse on the moon - that will provide the minimal necessities needed to grow healthy plants. The seeds must germinate and grow into normal, healthy plants to make more seeds and fruits to feed the moon pioneers and to generate fresh oxygen.
Engineering will answer this challenge by providing a climate that is sufficiently suitable to keep plants and humans alive and prospering on the moon. NASA wants to put people on the moon, and having healthy plants is a critical part of that human venture.
Are you ready for the challenge? Visit the Engineering Design Process and the Scientific Method sections on this Web site, research information in the Related Sites section, learn all that you can about the needs of plants, and start the process. Remember to report back and tell about your experiences.