3D Printed Hydroponics Part of Large-Scale Space Travel Simulation

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[Image: NASA]

There’s been a lot of talk lately about traveling to the moon, Mars or both. 3D printing has a lot to do with every stage of the planned journey into space, whether it’s through the construction of the rockets that will take us there or the habitats we will build upon arrival. What sometimes gets lost in all the technical talk, however, is the human element. Preparing human beings to spend a lengthy amount of time in space is no insignificant task, which is why a lot of work has gone into simulating outer space conditions here on Earth so that astronauts can get a feel for what it will actually be like, physically and psychologically, to travel to Mars or the moon.

Before astronauts go to Mars, they can go to M.A.R.S. – the Modular Analog Research Station, a project which simulates a mission to the moon or Mars. Located in Poland, the M.A.R.S. habitat consists of four underground modules plus a central office that includes a kitchen and social room. The first module consists of a bedroom, gym and hygiene room, while the second will contain bioreactors and research instruments. The third module will be for storage – of food, equipment, etc. – while the fourth will serve as a laboratory.

The six participants in the two-week experiment will live in the base and travel from module to module on foot or in a small two-person vehicle, wearing space suits that measure oxygen levels, carbon dioxide, pressure and temperature. They will collect research samples via a Mars rover that was created by students at Rzeszów University of Technology. Meanwhile, they will receive notifications such as sandstorm warnings and energy level notifications from nuclear reactor simulators.

One of the first questions that springs to mind regarding long-term space missions is: what will the astronauts eat? That question will be addressed in the simulation, of course: the participants will receive vitamins, microelements and proteins from produced in bioreactors, and they will also cultivate edible plants through hydroponics. That’s where 3D printing comes in to this particular mission. Verashape, creator of the VSHAPER 3D printer line, will be 3D printing the equipment that the participants will use to cultivate the plants.

“We decided to combine hydroponics with 3D Printing and create a modern hydroponic cultivation dedicated to space solutions. Containers that will be included in its composition will be printed using 3D Printing technology in cooperation with the VSHAPER Printer manufacturer,” said Olga Grabiwoda of the Design Institute in Kielce.

Other nutrition will come from insects and algae, via the bioreactors. That’s obviously going to take some getting used to, as is everything involved in a mission to the moon or Mars, and the goal of the simulation is to see how well astronauts can adapt to the conditions of such a mission. Sociological and psychological examinations will be performed, in addition to the gathering of data such as sleep quality, hormones, pulse and sugar levels. The results of the experiment will be made available to the public in the form of scientific and popular science publications.

Several Polish companies are involved in the simulation, providing technology such as a lock through which the participants will enter the habitat, bioreactors and a microgravity simulation machine. The Verashape team, for its part, is thrilled to be participating in such an experiment.

“We could not be indifferent to such an interesting initiative,” said Jacek Wach, Marketing Manager at Verashape. “There are only a few places like this one in the world – in China, Hawaii and the Deserts of Utah. We are very willing to engage in research projects. Participating in the M.A.R.S. project we indirectly contribute to the development of the space industry in Poland.”

The M.A.R.S. initiative was developed by Dr. Agata Kolodziejczyk, a neuroscientist from the European Space Agency. She is also involved with plans to build a moon village, or base, on the moon – a project that will depend heavily on 3D printing. The hope is that the M.A.R.S. simulation will be the first of many, depending on funding from sponsors. Discuss in the 3D Printed Hydroponics forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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