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This question already has an answer here:

Plants are quite useful to the intrepid space colonist, in addition to providing food, plants also help reduce life support burden and psychological stress by adding a splash of green to all those cramped metal corridors. But what plants should the intrepid space colonist take with him to cultivate?

Criteria-

  • Plant must either provide some sort of useful foodstuff/product or be able to produce enough oxygen to reduce life support burden significantly, though being pretty helps 8)
  • Plants must, probably, be able to be adapted to microgravity conditions including near freefall environments (such as asteroid habitats)
  • While not strictly necessary, plants that take up minimum space and/or can grow on various surfaces (ceilings, walls, etc. . .) are useful

So. . . What plants should the aspiring space colonist take?

Clarification: I am aware of algae to be used in life support systems and my reasoning was that yes that would be part of CELSS, indeed the main part. But additional plants could help reduce the burden on the algae. So what I'm mainly looking for is decorative but useful plants that could be spread about the colony to a) Look nice, b) Help the life support manage and c) maybe provide food or something else too. However all answers are appreciated and I thank you for contributing!

Edit: while this question does provide some useful foder, my question is oriented more towards a freefall environment and not for sustenance crops

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marked as duplicate by Cyn, Alex2006, JBH, Ender Look, elemtilas Dec 30 '18 at 5:24

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • $\begingroup$ Potatoes and all kinds of roots need a solid soil (at least I think so), so you should probably go for fruits. dlr.de/dlr/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-10081/151_read-29756/#/… $\endgroup$ – Karl Dec 28 '18 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ When you say "plants" are you referring exclusively to the "true plants" of the Viridiplantae or are algae and bryophytes acceptable? $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Dec 28 '18 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ If you can grow enough food to be self-sufficient, you are also automatically very close to make enough oxygen for you to breathe. Of course you need your life support system to buffer the "seasonal" variations. $\endgroup$ – Karl Dec 28 '18 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Wasn't really going for bacterias and algaes, but go ahead! If you have some ideas tell them! $\endgroup$ – The Imperial Dec 28 '18 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ Please don't chameleon your question :/ $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 28 '18 at 18:00
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First of all, plants for intrepid space colonist wouldn't probably need to reduce burden on life support. They will be an essential part of the life support. You need to close carbon cycle and oxygen cycle, otherwise your need for food and oxygen storage would eat up a lot of mass, meaning that rocket equation tyranny will bite you harder than needed.

You need something that's reliable, easy and fast to grow, easy to reduce growth, easy to produce food from. As far as I know, best candidate is algae. It already is used to purify air from excess CO2, as you can see for example here. NASA also works on using algae in space. And you can see in the pictures, it really can look pretty. It is even a trend in modern art.

Note, if you don't want to have that much water in use, aeroponic is probably a viable option, too. On the other hand, water is radiation shielding and has other uses, so you will probably want to keep quite a lot of it if possible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Algae? Irks. Any kind of plant with edible fruits does the job. The advantage of underwater plants is they're naturally adapted to zero gravity, i.e. you can put them in a tank and keep the lid on. ;-) $\endgroup$ – Karl Dec 28 '18 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Karl plants with edible fruits have severe drawbacks - production of carbohydrates is not continuous, production of wood is a waste, period between planting new plant and eating is very long... They are cool as a supplement, but not as the base of life support system. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 28 '18 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ If you can convert algae to food, so you can the stem of your tomatoe plant, I think. But nevermind, imo the advantage of algae is also their biggest disadvantage: They grow in bulk water, several tons probably if they should produce enough oxygen and food for one person. Plants growing in air are more lightweight. $\endgroup$ – Karl Dec 28 '18 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Karl bulk water is not the only option. Plants grow in heavy soil, algae in bulk water, both can grow in aeroponics. If you want to compare honestly, compare tons of soil to tons of water, or aero to aero. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 28 '18 at 18:06
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Epiphytic bromiliads in profusion - they don't care WHERE they grow, what they root into - if anything - as long as they have adequate humidity and light, they flourish. they grow parasitically on other plants or on cliffs, underhangs even, and many have edible components, and all can produce oxygen.

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/epiphytes/adaptations-of-epiphytes.htm

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    $\begingroup$ Ooh! those are perfect! Also really pretty! Thanks for bringing these to my attention. $\endgroup$ – The Imperial Dec 28 '18 at 21:13
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For a spaceship on a long voyage:

Weight and space constraints are the biggest limitations as far as the structure is concerned. Vertical container farming seems like the only realistic option in this case: you need less water and less soil (which means less weight). You can reduce the water even more with aeroponics (less water and almost no soil), although there are consequences to that - a soil matrix supports other beneficial organisms and a small ecosystem which in the long term would be necessary to recycle dead plant matter, resist diseases and other sundry problems.

There are 2 keys to all of this: one is the need to recover and supply nutrients into plant's water supply or soil matrix: nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, etc.. There are 17 of high importance to plant life and each of these is another cycle that needs to be closed somehow. Losing any of them will lead to nutrient-deficient plants which will produce smaller and less-healthy yields, and ultimately the plants themselves will succumb more easily to disease. Any of your leafy plants can be grown this way, certainly spinach and kale.

Next would come vining and hanging plants. Your hangers (peppers, tomatoes) and your viners / stalkers (beans, peas) will be perfectly happy in some 3" tubing as long as they have sufficient spacing.

Last would come trees and large stalking plants: It is possible to make dwarf / container versions of many fruit-bearing trees. These will be the heaviest and therefore you'll have the least of them. Stuff like corn, squash, etc.. take a lot of water and soil and I don't know how realistic it would be to grow them in quantity on a ship.

I would think before embarking on the voyage that specialized breeds of all of these had already been cultivated. Transporting them is just a matter of transporting the seeds and initial nutrient supplies. Growing the biome could even be automated to some extent, by using soil and water sensors to monitor and regulate nutrient levels, Ph balance, as easily as controlling the temperature. If it starts growing before human crew arrive you can leave the CO2 ratio higher (this will promote plant growth and is a strategy used by most greenhouses). Optionally CO2 could be diffused directly into the water supply although this makes the water more acidic. Each plant has its own "optimal" conditions of growth and if they're all in their own containers then each container can have its own profile. More containers also means if one becomes infected or something it doesn't affect the rest (in theory).

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Just saying that space colonies would probably be advanced enough to create artificial gravity, but whatever.

Potatoes are very nourishing and they make good meals, so it'd probably be a good idea to take them.

In order to have maximum oxygen supply, it may be necessary to bring a tree sapling and plant it in an area where the roof is taller, like a central plaza area.

Corn contains chemicals that are vital in preventing things like cancer and have a pretty good amount of calories, so those would be recommended.

Pea plants take up little area and yet are extremely healthy, which also applies to tomatoes and beans.

That's all I can think of for now. Hope this helps.

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    $\begingroup$ actually that is a common misconception, artificial gravity can only be created via thrust (a ship's engines firing) or by spinning to provide centrifugal force. And this is not always viable such as in an asteroid (many of which are rocky collections of rubble, so if you spun it up it would fly apart) and partially a cultural thing, spacers like microgravity! $\endgroup$ – The Imperial Dec 28 '18 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ A potatoe during it's growth sets free exactly the amount of oxygen later needed to oxidise the fruits and leaves and stem back to carbon dioxide. A tree is rather problematic: You will run out of CO2! $\endgroup$ – Karl Dec 28 '18 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Imperial, a possible way to do so would be to power the colony with a really big engine and spin the asteroid. Asteroids are pretty small on average, and assuming this is an average asteroid, that could be completely doable in the future. $\endgroup$ – kineticcrusher Dec 28 '18 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ As you will see in my previous comment, this won't work for all asteroids as many are essentially big piles of rubble and spinning would break them up. Also many spacer's like microgravity and prefer to live in freefall. I understand the point you are trying to make though, and yes it would be relatively easy to make rotating habitats. (I initially thought you were talking about pseudoscience artificial gravity nonsense) No hard feelings 8) $\endgroup$ – The Imperial Dec 28 '18 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, it's all cool. Good points there. $\endgroup$ – kineticcrusher Dec 28 '18 at 18:09
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Once your intrepid space colonist gets a solid footing; he/she is going to want variety and something to use as the raw material for future trade/export. I am assuming they are not living in a sardine can and have at least one dedicated bay for cultivation use. For that I suggest they consider growing spices and herbs like peppers and mint to liven up bland foodstuffs. And anyone who have grown a kitchen windowsill garden can attest - they don't take up a lot of space and will grow almost anywhere there is light and water. Fibrous plants such as cotton, hemp or flax for clothing. Flaxseed also good source of oil. Medical use plants - willow anyone? Purely ornamental plants such as bonsai trees as they don't take up much space, can be trained to any shape so micro gravity not an issue and can live for decades. Anything organic in space is going to have a premium resale/trade value. Roses or other flowering plants for fragrances to offset human odors/smells that build up in an enclosed environment. Someone mentioned water plants - if growing fish they would also regulate the nitrogen cycle and don't necessarily need to be consumed by people - food for livestock perhaps? And last fruits and sugar beets/cane for fermentation into alcohol.

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