New Documentary Features Impacts of Lunar Greenhouse Research

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Apollo astronauts stood on the Moon and looked back at the Earth, they were the first humans to see our planet as a completely isolated system, bounded on all sides by black. Now, 45 years later, "Earthlight," a new documentary produced by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona, explores the challenges facing the human race and how the technology we are designing to return to the Moon might be extremely useful here on Earth as well.

The film's tagline, "Is learning to live on the moon, the key to living sustainably on Earth," leads the audience into a exploration of the current food challenges our civilization faces through the lens of UA scientists who are building a greenhouse that may someday be used on the Moon.

The purpose of lunar greenhouses is to mimic the Earth and provide astronauts with a "closed ecosystem" that can provide all of the fresh water and air that the astronauts will need, as well as fresh foods. The robotic garden is close to 100% sustainable, meaning that it requires only a few pounds of replacement nutrient salts per year for every astronaut it would support.

Ironically it has been 45 years that modern production controlled environment agriculture practices, those now employed in UA's Lunar Greenhouse, began to transform worldwide food production using hydroponics and greenhouses.

The research behind the project is coordinated by scientists at both UA and NASA, in collaboration with local and international companies. The lunar greenhouse prototypes at UA are built to be collapsible for transport to the lunar surface where they will be deployed and buried for protection. Light will be brought in to each plant with fiber optical cables. Earlier designs have already been deployed in harsh environments like Antarctica, where they currently service the National Science Foundation's Admundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

"The demand for food will be 70% higher than it is now," said Joel Cuello, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at the University of Arizona, in reference to a United Nations report projecting to the year 2050. Scientists like those at CALS believe that technology such as the lunar greenhouse may play a part in meeting the food demand without putting additional burdens on the natural environment.

The documentary features interviews with NASA scientists, UA researchers and students exploring the urgency of sustainable living and how projects like the lunar greenhouse are key to maintaining our planet.

"Earthlight" will be premiering at various outlets at the end of July in honor of the 45th anniversary of the Apollo landing. If you are interested in watching clips from the film, downloading free simulators, or learning how to get involved, visit the link below or follow the documentary's production team on Twitter - @earthlightdoc - and Facebook.

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