It’s time for Gardeners off World, the only publication aimed at would-be interplanetary gardeners – or as I like to call it, A Giant Leap for Growkind πŸ™‚

In the most recent edition of The Food Programme, Sheila Dillon investigated microalgae – spirulina and chlorella – and their potential for feeding us in the future. She made reference to the scientists who have pondered whether microalgae will feed space explorers on their way to Mars, and spoke to one of the scientists behind the Photobioreactor project.

The Photobioreactor
[Image credit: IRS Stuttgart]

The Photobioreactor is an experimental algae-based life support system, which launched to the ISS in May 2019 (on CRS-17). It’s a step towards building closed-loop life support systems that would keep astronauts alive during long-duration missions that cannot be resupplied from Earth. It uses Chlorella vulgaris to convert the carbon dioxide the astronauts breathe out into oxygen and food.

The plan was for the Photobioreactor to help produce breathable air on the ISS for six months, but – according to the Food Programme – the experiment was cut short by an electrical problem.

Back in 2007, marine biologist Lloyd Godson spent two weeks underwater in Biosub, using algae to produce 10% of his oxygen via a Biocoil device designed for the experiment. Godson used a stationary bike to generate electricity and circulate the algae.

Two years ago, IKEA’s SPACE10 research and design lab came up with the Algae Dome, a plywood pavilion that produces a considerable amount of micro-algae. The idea was to trigger conversations about how we can produce nutritious food more sustainably, in urban areas.

In 2017, the Artemiss pilot project launched Spirulina into space to recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen and produce edible proteins. Artemiss is part of Melissa, the Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative programme developing regenerative technologies for life support.

A muesli bar developed for ESA astronauts on the International Space Station made with Spirulina and goji berries.
[Image credit: ESA ]

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti was the first person to eat spirulina in space, with specially-designed snack bars. If you fancy it, you can make your own at home!

And if you’d like to know more about the history of spirulina, here’s a 2012 video from the FAO, showing the traditional harvesting and processing of spirulina, by women in the Lake Chad region of Africa.


Microalgae may be the future of space food, but for the moment the crew of the ISS get their fresh veggies a more familiar way. Here’s a lovely video of what’s going on in mission control as an astronaut harvests mizuna on the space station:

The Guardian has had a selection of space-related articles to welcome the New Year. I enjoyed the interview with the first Brit in space, Helen Sharman:

“Being in space taught me that it’s people, not material goods, which truly matter. Up there we had all we needed to survive: the right temperature, food and drink, safety. I gave no thought to the physical items I owned on earth Earth. When we flew over specific parts of the globe, it was always our loved ones we thought of down below us.”

And Maggie Aderin-Pocock on how she learned to love the real Neil Armstrong and embrace the space race, and the Observer editorial on why space exploration matters when we have so many problems to solve at home:

“Space exploration tells us there is no Planet B and no chance of starting over again if we continue to make a mess of this world. The view from above shows Earth is precious and needs a lot more care and attention than it is getting at present.”

In a similar vein, Rob Hopkins explains why he spent Christmas on the Moon.

PopSci has a closer look at Samsung’s new Bespoke Plant fridge, and you can read about the latest all-female ‘mission to Mars’ at Six female scientists are spending two weeks in the HI-SEAS analog in Hawaii. Dr Sian Proctor will be continuing her Meals for Mars project, and the crew will also be working with fermented foods created from recipes from colleagues around the world, and studying the microbial species that ferment those foods.

That’s it for this edition of GoffW, I hope to see you all here again next week!