EDEN-ISS, the greenhouse in Antarctica | Polarjournal
The EDEN ISS experimental greenhouse at Neumayer Station III in Antarctica tests methods for growing products on board the International Space Station and for long-term missions in space. (Photo: DLR, German Aerospace Center)

How can people on the ISS space station, on the moon or on a mission to Mars be supplied with fresh fruit and vegetables? To find out, a greenhouse was set up 400 metres from Neumayer III Station. Testing has been going on in the EDEN-ISS greenhouse for three years now. Plant scientist Jess Bunchek from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will spend a year as a DLR guest researcher in Antarctica in the winter of 2021.

Paul Zabel was the first ‘gardener’ in Antarctica in 2018. (Photo: DLR)

Since 2018, the EDEN ISS greenhouse of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has been located in Antarctica to conduct research for future food production in deserts and cold regions, as well as the possibilities of fresh food in the hostile conditions on the Moon or Mars.

Space engineer Paul Zabel was the first gardener in the EDEN ISS greenhouse in 2018, growing vegetables in extreme conditions. He had previously prepared himself for this with a two-week intensive course in gardening in a Dutch greenhouse.

Scientist Jess Bunchek will be the ‘head gardener’ at the Eden ISS Experimental Station for a year as part of the 2021/22 overwintering team. (Photo: DLR / Caspari)

For the 2021 hibernation, plant scientist Jess Bunchek from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will now spend a year in the perpetual ice as a DLR guest researcher, growing vegetables without soil and under artificial light. She is part of the overwintering crew of the Antarctic station Neumayer III operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI).

“EDEN ISS is a unique project. There are few other facilities like this in the world,” says NASA scientist Jess Bunchek, who currently works for the DLR Institute of Space Systems. “It’s even more unique because of the extreme climate and the overwintering aspect. This collaboration between DLR and NASA will help shape the design of a future lunar or Martian greenhouse and astronaut crew support requirements.”

Jess Bunchek can already imagine the first salad from her own harvest: red romaine lettuce. It tastes great, and “the other overwinterers on my team don’t know this particular variety of lettuce yet.”

Uncomfortable storms and icy temperatures cannot harm the plants in the EDEN-ISS greenhouse. Inside the high-tech container with 13 square metres of growing space, the temperature is a constant 21 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity 65 percent.

Rich harvest at the test run

Under the Edenic conditions, the researchers were able to harvest a total of 117 kilos of lettuce, 67 kilos of cucumbers, 46 kilos of tomatoes, 19 kilos of kohlrabi, 15 kilos of herbs and 8 kilos of radishes during the first experiment in 2018. “I was actually surprised that we were able to harvest so much,” Paul Zabel said in January 2019, after returning from Antarctica.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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