While space settlement is still out of reach as of now, the group Mars Farm Odyssey is preparing for the question of sustenance for when it does become a reality. NASA and the European Space Agency are both currently tackling the issue of providing food in space, but Mars Farm can contribute to the conversation by getting ideas from a wider range of people. So far, their goal is to build a food computer, a model that would recreate the factors that influence plant growth (climate, nutrients, etc) and use that to shape how the plants grow.

Here’s what Mars Farm said about their project:

“The collective hive of humanity has more ideas to offer than a research team buried in a bunker somewhere,” says Karin Kloosterman, cofounder of Flux, a startup currently developing a plant-monitoring device for urban farmers. “And this know-how can be applied on Earth, too, so young researchers can employ the hive to start experimentation even without the gravity or resource limitations one would experience in space.”

In a recent meeting in Tel Aviv, Mars Farm debated some of the details of space farming. One workshop focused on developing a citizen science kit that will crowdsource how particular plants grow, making it possible to build controlled “food computers” that robotically recreate the climate and nutrients that a crop needs.

“With a complete model of the plant, and knowledge of these environmental factors (pH of the water, temperature, relative humidity, etc.) you would be able to predict the growth of a plant, and also steer the growth,” says Thieme Hennis, an Amsterdam-based researcher and designer who came to the meeting.

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