The colonization of space will depend on our ability to routinely provide for the metabolic needs (oxygen, water, and food) of a crew with minimal re-supply from Earth. On Earth, these functions are facilitated by the cultivation of plant crops, thus it is important to develop plant-based food production systems to sustain the presence of mankind in space. Farming practices on earth have evolved for thousands of years to meet both the demands of an ever-increasing population and the availability of scarce resources, and now these practices must adapt to accommodate the effects of global warming. Similar challenges are expected when earth-based agricultural practices are adapted for space-based agriculture. A key variable in space is gravity; planets (e.g. Mars, 1/3 g) and moons (e.g. Earth's moon, 1/6 g) differ from spacecraft orbiting the Earth (e.g. Space stations) or orbital transfer vehicles that are subject to microgravity. The movement of heat, water vapor, CO2 and O2 between plant surfaces and their environment is also affected by gravity. In microgravity, these processes may also be affected by reduced mass transport and thicker boundary layers around plant organs caused by the absence of buoyancy dependent convective transport. Future space farmers will have to adapt their practices to accommodate microgravity, high and low extremes in ambient temperatures, reduced atmospheric pressures, atmospheres containing high volatile organic carbon contents, and elevated to super-elevated CO2 concentrations. Farming in space must also be carried out within power-, volume-, and mass-limited life support systems and must share resources with manned crews. Improved lighting and sensor technologies will have to be developed and tested for use in space. These developments should also help make crop production in terrestrial controlled environments (plant growth chambers and greenhouses) more efficient and, therefore, make these alternative agricultural systems more economically feasible food production systems.
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