What properties of a species of plant would make it the ideal choice for taking it on a year-long trip through space as both an oxygen source and food source?

We should assume that the amount of pressurized volume and payload mass is limited on the spaceship and that we only have technology which is plausible to exist in the near future according to the current state of science.

In an answer to another question I tried to describe some desirable properties for such a plant, but I don't know much about botany or biology, so I believe I might be talking a bit out of my ass there.

  • $\begingroup$ That list looks pretty good... $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ Gravity is very important for most plants. You might have to consider artificial gravity or some way for the plant to grow in low gravity. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Some type of algae will probably be your best bet. $\endgroup$
    – rclev
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ Humans can't survive on a single food source. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 18:50

4 Answers 4


Why you feel the need to limit in a single plant species? You would want several, each has different specific nutrients, and also important, different taste.

Some links: Aeroponics - NASA biofarming - NASA aeroponics

There was discussion about exact mix of about 10 plants, IIRC it was on space exploration forum, for mission to Mars.


If you don't like algae (and what's not to like?).

For air-purification:

  • sedge - cold, drought, salt-tolerant, can grow in gravel
  • sargassum - free-floating macro-algae
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) - hardy, and hard to kill.

Or an epiphyte of some kind.

Food? I'd go with potatoes.

NASA is starting with lettuce

You may have to start with bean sprouts, and other quick-growing things, if you want to minimize the food you're taking, and you're unwilling to eat algae cakes. But you're going to have a down time-period where you're not producing food, before your crops start producing. Plants don't take launch-stresses well (unless you have a different way to get to orbit).


Here's what I would want in a plant:

  1. High leaf to stem ratio for making O2, bonus if the stem has chloroplasts in it too.
  2. All of it is edible (leaf, stem, roots).
  3. No hard woody parts and no fibrous parts (unless you plan to use those fibers) to reduce waste that is harder to recycle.
  4. Roots that take well to hydro- or aero- farming.

The most important feature is that it will live, period.

There is no gravity, so growth might go haywire or the specimen may die because the internal signals don’t work right.

Second is the low air pressure and air mix. How much CO₂ is left in the air by the scrubbers? Well, if this is to be part of the air system and not a lone experiment, that will be designed in.

And what quality of light is needed? The windows filter the harsh rays, and normal lighting is not designed as gro-tlights. This can be critical for a casual houseplant. Intentional planned plants would have lighting to suit, but there may be a difference in difficulty/efficiency depending on how picky the plant is.

Finally, we want to make sure the plant doesn’t cause problems: odors or powder or dried bits that float around will be unwelcome.


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