Home » Corn on Mars? The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Leads Groundbreaking Space Agriculture Project

Corn on Mars? The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Leads Groundbreaking Space Agriculture Project

by Kehinde Giwa

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, known for its proximity to corn fields, is now venturing into a world far beyond terrestrial agriculture. Professors Santosh Pitla and Yufeng Ge spearhead the development of a groundbreaking initiative called the Consortium of Space, Policy, Agriculture, Climate, and Extreme Environment (SPACE²). 

Their ambitious goal? To cultivate the “first acre of corn on Mars’ soil.”

While the concept of farming in space may seem futuristic, researchers believe that their work has the potential to revolutionise the future of agriculture. The absence of a dedicated space-ag research centre in the United States highlights the pioneering nature of SPACE². This consortium aims to not only pave the way for Mars-grown crops but also address critical challenges related to food production in space.

Professor Ge emphasised the importance of research into growing food in space to support astronauts during space travel and missions to the International Space Station. Moreover, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s strategic positioning in agricultural production in the Midwest, coupled with its expertise in plant genetics, biochemistry, and robotics, uniquely positions it to lead space agriculture research. 

The consortium has already embarked on various university-funded research projects, such as cultivating soybeans in lunar substrate and developing an autonomous robot named Flex-Ro for planting and cultivation tasks.

As Professor Pitla aptly stated, “We have been doing ag research for more than 100 years, and we’re an ag state. Why reinvent the wheel somewhere else when we already have all this experience?” The collaboration within SPACE² is interdisciplinary as it comprises experts from diverse fields of plant physiology, biological systems engineering, and law. 

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Furthermore, the consortium is working with NASA and private industry players like Blue Origin’s subsidiary Honeybee Robotics to advance space agriculture. Collaborations with other academic institutions within the Big Ten Network are enriching the knowledge-sharing ecosystem essential for pioneering research in this groundbreaking field.

Growing corn on Mars isn’t only a science experiment; it represents human creativity and progress. Through SPACE²’s ongoing exploration, humanity is setting the stage for tomorrow’s agronomists and researchers to engage a universe where farming expands past Earth’s borders. It’s trail-blazing and an ambitious adventure! 

About SPACE² University of Nebraska-Lincoln

SPACE2: Space, Policy, Agriculture, Climate, and Extreme Environment, University of Nebraska-Lincoln plans to grow the first acre of corn on Mars. UNL aims to bring the Green Revolution to Mars by studying circular agriculture on the red planet. They envision leading the United States in developing a prominent academic program in Space Agriculture within the next fifty years. This program will be a hub for advanced research in Space Agriculture, with significant impacts on humanities and society.

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