July 2023 Newsletter

July 2023 Newsletter

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The Promise of Algae: Spirulina as a Game-Changing Solution

By Exolith Lab

As humanity gears up for extended space missions and colonization of other planets, the cultivation of crops provides a crucial challenge.

As humanity embarks on the exciting journey into space, the possibility of extended space missions and even colonization of other planets looms closer. However, the harsh conditions of space and extraterrestrial environments pose significant challenges to sustaining life. Innovative solutions are crucial for ensuring the health and well-being of astronauts. Among these challenges, the cultivation of crops emerges as a pivotal aspect of long-duration space travel and habitation on celestial bodies.

By cultivating plants during the journey to Mars and upon arrival, we can not only provide sustenance but also have a positive impact on the mental and physical well-being of astronauts. This is where the use of algae, particularly Spirulina, as a plant food source comes into play, offering a transformative approach to addressing the challenges of sustainable agriculture in space.

In a remarkable study conducted by Terry Trevino from the Analog Research Group (AARG) through the American Public University System (APUS), the cultivation of A platensis (also known as L fusiforma) in simulated Martian regolith was investigated.

The study specifically focused on Exolith Lab's MGS-1S, utilizing biobags to grow Spirulina during spaceflight and subsequently using it as feedstock for plants cultivated in Martian regolith. The aim of this research is to enhance astronaut mental health, provide supplementary food, and promote bio-regeneration in space missions and colonization.

Platensis, with its remarkable resilience, CO2 consumption capabilities, and prolific growth, presents a multifaceted solution to the challenges of cultivating plants in space. Trevino's study specifically examined the growth of micro basils and radish greens planted in a mixture of 75% MGS-1S and 25% soil. Each plant received 2 g of dried Spirulina and 100 mL of distilled water as their sole source of nutrients.

According to Trevino, "Feeding live Spirulina to another plant seems a bit carnivorous, but it's actually really good for the plant."

The study revealed excellent pH levels and consistent, healthy growth from days 3 to 7, spanning a total of 66 days, ultimately yielding tasty greens suitable for astronauts.

Encouraged by his findings, Trevino was recently awarded a NASA grant (NSPIRES R3) through the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium to further his research. He plans to evaluate the growth of Spirulina in environments with elevated levels of CO2 using the Inflatable Lunar/Mars Analog Habitat (ILMAH), the San Francisco Plant Laboratory (SFPL), and in low gravity conditions using a 3D clinostat. By doing so, he hopes to address CO2 consumption, O2 production, and other potential applications of Spirulina, such as supplemental drinks.

Reflecting on his work, Trevino states, "I had always thought that we could take the regolith that you provided and do something else with it. The thought is, how do we make it so that it's viable, usable, and do that on the path (to Mars)."

His tireless experimentation and meticulous observations have unveiled the immense potential of Spirulina as a vital component in sustaining life during space missions and beyond. The far-reaching impact of his research extends beyond the confines of the laboratory, delving into the depths of the human experience and the essence of our cosmic exploration.