November 30, 2022
In collaboration with CSUN Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM (ARCS) the Marilyn Magaram Center is proud to be a phase two team for the Deep Space Food Challenge, an international competition where NASA offers prize purse awards to U.S. teams and recognition to international teams. Over 300 teams from 31 countries submitted innovative food system designs. Our team, Astro Cultivators, is one of 32 remaining teams. Teams were invited to create novel and game-changing food technologies or systems that require minimal inputs and maximize safe, nutritious, and palatable food outputs for long-duration space missions, and which have potential to benefit people on Earth.
Our team is an interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff, and students with backgrounds in mechanical and computer engineering, gardening, nutrition, and food science with the goal to build a growth system to help fill food gaps for astronauts for a three-year round-trip space mission with no resupply from Earth. The autonomous space farming system our team is developing grows self-pollinating crops in deep space missions, and significantly decreases crew time needed to operate plant growth systems by providing autonomous monitoring, real-time data reporting, ambient environment management, automatic harvesting, and cleaning. Missions to Mars will rely on packaged foods from Earth, which will meet the macronutrient needs of astronauts but are subject to degradation of vitamin C and vitamin B1 and which are deficient in vitamin K. Growing fresh produce to supplement nutrient deficiencies will be vital for the health of the crew. Two crops have been the focus for our crop trials: Red Robin Dwarf Tomatoes and Sugar Ann Snap Peas, which were selected based on their short harvest time and micronutrient profile.
We are grateful to Susan Ettinger for her generous donation to support our Mission to Mars! You can follow along at: https://www.deepspacefoodchallenge.org/