PLANT-CENTERED BIOSYSTEMS IN SPACE ENVIRONMENTS: TECHNOLOGICAL CONCEPTS
Plants will play an essential role in providing life support for any long-term space exploration or habitation. We are evaluating the feasibility of an adaptable system for measuring the response of plants to any unique space condition and optimizing plant performance under those conditions. The proposed system is based on a unique combination of systems including the rapid advances in the field of plant genomics, microarray technology for measuring gene expression, bioinformatics, gene pathways and networks, physiological measurements in controlled environments, and advances in automation and robotics. The resulting flexible module for monitoring and optimizing plant responses will be able to be inserted as a cassette into a variety of platforms and missions for either experimental or life support purposes. The results from future plant functional genomics projects have great potential to be applied to those plant species most likely to be used in space environments. Eventually, it will be possible to use the plant genetic assessment and control system to optimize the performance of any plant in any space environment. In addition to allowing the effective control of environmental parameters for enhanced plant productivity and other life support functions, the proposed module will also allow the selection or engineering of plants to thrive in specific space environments. The proposed project will advance human exploration of space in the near- and mid-term future on the International Space Station and free-flying satellites and in the far-term for longer duration missions and eventual space habitation.