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C.L. Mackowiak, J.L. Garland, and R.M. Wheeler

As humans explore the solar system, life support will need to be increasingly self-sufficient. Growing higher plants and using recycling technologies can improve self-sufficiency. Sodium is an essential mineral for humans, but not typically for plants. Recycling sodium back to humans through food crops may reduce the need for sodium supplements in the human diet. However, if sodium from waste streams is added to the plant system in greater quantities than it is removed, then plant toxic levels may result. The recommended daily sodium requirement is 3000 mg per person. Based on a 20-m2 growing area per person, 150 mg·m–2 sodium would need to be removed each day. Most crops will not remove enough salt when grown at very low sodium levels; however, when grown in 20 mM sodium, plant uptake may meet the 3000 mg/d human sodium requirement without affecting yields. We grew four different salad crops (lettuce, radish, spinach, and table beet) hydroponically and calculated plant uptake rates and partitioning with 0, 20, 40, or 80 mM sodium supplemented nutrient solutions (corresponding to ≈1.4, 4.0, 8.0, and 13.0 dS·m–1 electrical conductivity). Sodium at 40 and 80 mM reduced edible yields. Sodium replaced tissue potassium in most cases, whereas calcium and magnesium concentrations were much less affected, particularly at 20 mM sodium. This data will be used to model sodium flows within a bioregenerative life support system and determine the feasibility of sodium recycling using food crops.

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K.R. Goldman and C.A. Mitchell

Rice (Oryza sativa L.) is a candidate crop for use in Controlled Ecological Life-support Systems (CELSS) proposed for a lunar or Mars outpost. `Ai-Nan-Tsao' is a promising semi-dwarf cultivar because growth volume is limited and HI (percent edible biomass) is high. Yield efficiency rate (YER: g grain/m3 per day [g nonedible biomass]-) combines edible yield rate (EYR: g grain/m3 per day) and HI to quantify edible yield in terms of penalties for growth volume, cropping time, and nonedible biomass production. Greenhouse studies indicate EYR increases with plant density from 70 to 282 plants/m2. YER and shoot HI are stable across this density range because nonedible biomass accumulation keeps pace with edible. Tiller number and panicle size per plant decreased with increasing plant density, but total tiller and panicle number per unit area increased to compensate. Density trials in rigorously controlled environments will determine if higher plant densities will produce even greater YER. This research is supported by NASA grant NAGW-2329.

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Gioia Massa, Thomas Graham, Tim Haire, Cedric Flemming II, Gerard Newsham, and Raymond Wheeler

Providing the optimal quality, quantity, and distribution of light in CE plant production, including bioregenerative life support systems and vertical farming applications, arguably remains the most significant hurdle in realizing the full economic

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Desmond G. Mortley, Conrad K. Bonsi, Walter A. Hill, Carlton E. Morris, Carol S. Williams, Ceyla F. Davis, John W. Williams, Lanfang H. Levine, Barbara V. Petersen, and Raymond M. Wheeler

Because sweetpotato [Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.] stem cuttings regenerate very easily and quickly, a study of their early growth and development in microgravity could be useful to an understanding of morphological changes that might occur under such conditions for crops that are propagated vegetatively. An experiment was conducted aboard a U.S. Space Shuttle to investigate the impact of microgravity on root growth, distribution of amyloplasts in the root cells, and on the concentration of soluble sugars and starch in the stems of sweetpotatoes. Twelve stem cuttings of ‘Whatley/Loretan’ sweetpotato (5 cm long) with three to four nodes were grown in each of two plant growth units filled with a nutrient agarose medium impregnated with a half-strength Hoagland solution. One plant growth unit was flown on Space Shuttle Columbia for 5 days, whereas the other remained on the ground as a control. The cuttings were received within 2 h postflight and, along with ground controls, processed in ≈45 min. Adventitious roots were counted, measured, and fixed for electron microscopy and stems frozen for starch and sugar assays. Air samples were collected from the headspace of each plant growth unit for postflight determination of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and ethylene levels. All stem cuttings produced adventitious roots and growth was quite vigorous in both ground-based and flight samples and, except for a slight browning of some root tips in the flight samples, all stem cuttings appeared normal. The roots on the flight cuttings tended to grow in random directions. Also, stem cuttings grown in microgravity had more roots and greater total root length than ground-based controls. Amyloplasts in root cap cells of ground-based controls were evenly sedimented toward one end compared with a more random distribution in the flight samples. The concentration of soluble sugars, glucose, fructose, and sucrose and total starch concentration were all substantially greater in the stems of flight samples than those found in the ground-based samples. Carbon dioxide levels were 50% greater and oxygen marginally lower in the flight plants, whereas ethylene levels were similar and averaged less than 10 nL·L−1. Despite the greater accumulation of carbohydrates in the stems, and greater root growth in the flight cuttings, overall results showed minimal differences in cell development between space flight and ground-based tissues. This suggests that the space flight environment did not adversely impact sweetpotato metabolism and that vegetative cuttings should be an acceptable approach for propagating sweetpotato plants for space applications.

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Jay Frick, S. Suzanne Nielsen, and Cary A. Mitchell

Effects of N level (15 to 30 mm), time of N increase (14 to 28 days after planting), and planting density (1163 to 2093 plants/m2) were determined for crop yield responses of dwarf, rapid-cycling brassica (Brassica napus L., CrGC 5-2, Genome: ACaacc). Crops were grown in solid-matrix hydroponic systems and under controlled-environment conditions, including nonsupplemented (ambient) or elevated CO2 concentrations (998 ± 12 μmol·mol-1). The highest seed yield rate obtained (4.4 g·m-2·day-1) occurred with the lowest N level (15 mm) applied at the latest treatment time (day 28). In all trials, CO2 enrichment reduced seed yield rate and harvest index by delaying the onset of flowering and senescence and stimulating vegetative shoot growth. The highest shoot biomass accumulation rate (55.5 g·m-2·day-1) occurred with the highest N level (30 mm) applied at the earliest time (day 14). Seed oil content was not significantly affected by CO2 enrichment. Maximum seed oil content (30% to 34%, dry weight basis) was obtained using the lowest N level (15 mm) initiated at the latest treatment time (day 28). In general, an increase in seed oil content was accompanied by a decrease in seed protein. Seed carbohydrate, moisture, and ash contents did not vary significantly in response to experimental treatments. Effects of N level and time of N increase were consistently significant for most crop responses. Planting density was significant only under elevated CO2 conditions.

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Gary W. Stutte

NASA has investigated the use of recirculating nutrient film technique (NFT) systems to grow higher plants on long-duration space missions for many years and has demonstrated the feasibility of using recirculating systems on numerous crop species. A long duration (418-day) experiment was conducted at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., to evaluate the feasibility of using recirculating hydroponics for the continuous production of Solanum tuberosum L. `Norland'. The productivity of four sequential batch plantings was compared to staggered harvest and plantings. The accumulation of bioactive organic compounds in the nutrient solution resulted in reduced plant height, induced early tuber formation, and increased harvest index of the crops in both production systems. The changes in crop development were managed by increasing planting density and reducing cycle time to sustain production efficiency.

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Jay Frick and Cary A. Mitchell

2-[N-morpholino] ethanesulfonic acid (MES) buffer or Amberlite DP-1 (cation-exchange resin beads) were used to stabilize substrate pH of passive-wicking, solid-matrix hydroponic systems in which small canopies of Brassica napus L. (CrGC 5-2, genome: ACaacc) were grown to maturity. Two concentrations of MES (5 or 10 m m) were included in Hoagland 1 nutrient solution. Alternatively, resin beads were incorporated into the 2 vermiculite: 1 perlite (v/v) growth medium at 6% or 12% of total substrate volume. Both strategies stabilized pH without toxic side effects on plants. Average seed yield rates for all four pH stabilization treatments (13.3 to 16.9 g·m-2·day-1) were about double that of the control (8.2 g·m-2·day-1), for which there was no attempt to buffer substrate pH. Both the highest canopy seed yield rate (16.9 g·m-2·day-1) and the highest shoot harvest index (19.5%) occurred with the 6% resin bead treatment, even though the 10 mm MES and 12% bead treatments maintained pH within the narrowest limits. The pH stabilization methods tested did not significantly affect seed oil and protein contents.

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Gary Stutte and Ignacio Eraso

NASA has intensively studied the use of plants to regenerate the atmosphere, purify water, and produce food within a bioregenerative life support system for many years. A unique aspect of growing plants in a controlled environment is chronic exposure to low levels of atmospheric volatiles. Alcohols are one of the most common classes of atmospheric contaminants currently detected onboard the International Space Station. A series of experiments were performed in specialized volatile organic compound analysis (VOCA) chambers in order to determine sensitivity of three Raphanus sativus L. to atmospheric exposures of ethanol. Three radish cultivars, Sora, Cherry Belle, and Cherry Bomb Hybrid II, were grown under continuous exposure to 0, 50, 100, 300, 500, or 1000 ppm ethanol for 21 days in the VOCA chambers with environmental setpoints of 23 °C, 75% relative humidity, and 18/6 photoperiod under T8 triphosphor fluorescent lamps at 300 μmol·m-2·s-1 PAR and 1200 μmol·mol-1 CO2. These concentrations corresponded to 5%, 10%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the human exposure limits established by NASA and OSHA. Exposures to less than 10% of the legal exposure limit resulted in a 30% reduction in total biomass, 12% reduction in leaf area, and a 6% reduction in harvest index. Extreme stunting, chlorosis, and plant death were observed at only 50% of the exposure limit. All three cultivars were sensitive to ethanol exposure, with Cherry Bomb Hybrid II being slightly less sensitive than either Sora or Cherry Belle.

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C.L. Mackowiak, G.W. Stutte, R.M. Wheeler, and N.C. Yorio

The growth of candidate crops in high CO2 environments is being investigated as part of NASA's goal of using higher plants for bioregenerative life support systems. Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) cvs. Red Robin and Reimann Philipp were grown in recirculating hydroponics at 400, 1200, 5000, or 10,000 μmol·mol–1 CO2 for 105 days. The plants received a 12/12 hour photo-period at 500 μmol·m–2·s–1 PPF, 26/22°C (light/dark), and 65% continuous relative humidity. Stomatal conductance increased at the highest CO2 levels, which is similar to what we have reported with Soybean, radish, and potato. Fruit number increased with increasing CO2, where Red Robin produced 663 fruit/m2 and Reimann Philipp produced 6870 fruit/m2 at 10,000 μmol·mol–1 CO2. Fruit fresh mass was greatest at 10,000 μmol·mol–1 CO2 for Red Robin (7.4 kg·m–2) and at 5000 μmol·mol–1 CO2 for Reimann Philipp (27 kg·m–2), suggesting that very high CO2 was not detrimental to yields. These findings contrast with those of wheat, soybean, and potato, which have shown slightly depressed yields at CO2 levels above 1200 μmol·mol–1.

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Jeffrey Richards, Sharon Edney, Neil Yorio, Gary Stutte, Matthew Sisko, and Raymond Wheeler

Environmental factors such as light intensity (PPF) and/or air temperature may be limiting engineering constraints in near or long-term space missions. This will potentially affect NASA's ability to provide either dietary augmentation to the crew or maintain a large-scale bioregenerative life support system. Crops being considered by NASA to provide supplemental food for crew consumption during such missions consist primarily of minimally processed “salad” species. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. cv. Flandria), radish (Raphanus sativus L. cv. Cherry Bomb II), and green onion (Allium fistulosum L. cv. Kinka) are being evaluated under a range of PPF and temperature environments likely to be encountered in space systems. Plants were grown for 35 days under cool-white fluorescent (CWF) lamps with light intensities of 8.6, 17.2, or 26 μmol·m-2·d-1, at air temperatures of 25 and 28 °C, and 50% relative humidity, and 1200 μmol·mol-1 CO2. Regardless of temperature, all three species showed an increase in edible mass with increasing light levels. When grown at 28 °C, edible mass of radish was significantly reduced at all lighting intensities compared to 25 °C, indicating a lower optimal temperature for radish. Understanding the interactions of these environmental factors on crop performance is a critical element to defining future missions that incorporate plant-based life support technologies.