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Guest: Morgan Irons; Topic: Creating space agriculture for food and environmental development for space settlement.
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We welcomed Morgan Irons to the program to discuss space agriculture, securing food for space settlement, creating the right ecological environment for space habitats and much more. Our guest started our two segment 98 minute discussion by introducing us to her journey into this field which included her work as an undergraduate at Duke which eventually led her to her PhD program at Cornell. It is an interesting story, one that I believe can benefit other students seeking to discover their interests as they enter college and move on to their careers or graduate school. Please feel free to comment on her story and her path by posting your comments on our blog. Don't be shy. Note that the break between the first and second segment was devoted to thanking our sponsors, reading their messages and the need to continue to support The Space Show during these waning days of 2019.
As Morgan was talking about her journey, we talked about quasi and closed loop life support systems for BLEO human spaceflight. Morgan stressed the need for using insitu resources, telling us that quasi closed loop referred to systems that could supplement from the local resources at the space destination. Closed loop would refer to being closed off from insitu resource usages. For Mars, our guest thought it would be quasi closed since there would be some local Martian resources available but for the Moon, that would be more of a tightly closed loop. Don't miss all of what our guest said on this topic.
I followed this discussion with a question for our guest asking if today we had the capability to support 100 space settlement residents on Mars given the assumption that we could get them there in an economical and safe way. As you will hear, there was no black or white answer to my question but what followed was a detailed discussion about space farming, space agriculture, environmental systems, ecological systems, providing supplies such as water, fuel, plus being able to handle cultural differences, food choices and needs and much more. This discussion was an important part of what our guest was talking about do be sure not to miss a word of it. Additional topics including making sure we had sufficient oxygen, nitrogen and other components to meet our needs plus the technology to use and develop them and sustain them. Morgan went on to say it would take time and lots of collaboration to be able to support my hypothetical 100 person settlement.
This discussion led to our talking about space agriculture, degraded soil, regular soil, soil on Earth, lunar regolith, Mars regolith and even bring soil up to space from Earth. When I asked our guest if we were being fooled or misled by those promoting our almost immediate readiness to undertake space settlement today, she said it was hard to say or answer that question. Lots of different disciplines would be involved. Once again, don't miss a word of this important discussion. Before we moved on, Morgan was asked if NASA was aware of and paying attention to the issues being brought to our attention. Morgan had a lot to say about NASA which appears to be focusing on pre-packaged foods for the ISS. She said there limited veggies on the ISS and lettuce is actually being grown on the ISS but for space settlement, this approach would rapidly lead to menu fatigue.
We continued on talking about how to turn denatured regolith into active soil. As part of this commentary, our guest talked about ecological succession or changes in a species structure over time. Don't miss her examples, including the rock. Another topic was Pioneer species. Don't miss what our guest said about this along with her examples.
After reading our sponsor messages and starting the second segment, BJohn asked a question about bypassing agriculture altogether and going directly to the use of Quorn. I read the definition of Quorn since neither Morgan or I were very familiar with it but listen to what Morgan said about bypassing agriculture. Dr. Doug sent in a question asking about starting a space settlement using the greenhouse approach which he thought would be simpler and more affordable than the ecological approach talked about by our guest. Morgan provide lots of reasons for not doing what Doug wanted by letting him and the listeners know the shortcoming of greenhouses. She talked about pest problems and numerous other issues which were not present with the ecological models due to the ability for crops to adapt. Eventually our guest did say that if you had a small initial settlement you might lead off with a greenhouse but you would want to evolve to the ecological system as soon as possible. Let us know your thoughts on this subject by posting on our blog.
For those of you that heard TSS a few weeks ago with guest Bryce Meyer, recall that Bryce provided me with two questions to ask Morgan which I did at this point in our program. The two questions were: (1). How would you (Morgan), turn regolith into living soil; (2) How would you (Morgan) suggest using human poop in the space agricultural chain. Morgan answered both of the questions in detail but spent some time on the human waste question because of the challenges it presented. While it may sound disgusting and weird, it was actually a very important discussion because in space settlement and probably on the spaceship, human waste will be recycled. Post your comments about this discussion on our blog. Let us know what you think.
Before our program ended, I asked Morgan about the food supply and agriculture for the Earth to Mars transit. She talked about using a similar system to the ISS but more. As we were nearing the end of the program, a Tucson listener asked if she had been in touch with SpaceX regarding these issues for the SpaceX plan to develop a Martian settlement. The subject of timelines came up again but this time our guest said we might be able to do some of what we had been talking about in ten years.
In concluding her comments, Morgan said there were three takeaways from her being on The Space Show:
1. Earth and Space agriculture have similar challenges and enable one another;
2. Developing systems means allowing humans to adapt and develop with more than food alone;
3. There is a need to develop sustainable agricultural systems for space and here on Earth so we don't repeat mistakes that have already been made here on Earth.
Please post your comments/questions for Ms. Irons on our blog for this show. You can reach Morgan Irons through her Deep Space Ecology company website, www.deepspaceecology.com.