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On NASA's Mars Mission, Ohio State Students Might Help Grow The Plants

Clare Roth
Brennan Cordova and Usoshi Chatterjee are two of the eight undergraduates at Ohio State University working on a water delivery system for space travel.

Every year, NASA poses a challenge to schools around the country come up with a prototype that the organization can use in its journey to Mars.

Among the eight winners this year was a team of students at the Ohio State College of Engineering.

The team received $20,000 in grant funding to develop their project, a water delivery system for space-based food production. Their end goal is to grow plants and sustain them in microgravity environments.

Usoshi Chatterjee, one of the students on the team, said that sending produce or food in general to outer space costs a lot - every 1 kilogram of payload costs around $7,000 to send to the moon or International Space Station.

"As we progress with space travel and space exploration, this will only continue to rise in cost," Chatterjee says. "By having a modular plant growth system we're able to kind of mitigate those costs and create a sustainable way to have food in outer space while minimizing the amount of payload weight that goes up."

In their lab on earth, the project looks like a tub full of water with a plant resting on top. The tub of water simulates zero-gravity environments, Chatterjee says. 

It's like Matt Damon in "The Martian," she admits, "except this is maybe a bit more realistic at this point."

Credit Clare Roth
Ohio State students won a grant from NASA for their water delivery system, to help grow plants in zero-gravity.

Chatterjee says the team hopes their project can be useful closer to home - like in urban areas where potted plants or a garden just take up too much space.

"What we can also hope to implement with this is distribute this in especially lower poverty areas and drought-filled areas that don't really have access to fresh produce farms and just food deserts in general," she says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.