When Neil Armstrong took one small step onto the moon in 1969, it seemed only a matter of time before the advent of thriving space colonies and summer vacations on distant planets. But after an initial flurry of moon landings, manned lunar expeditions dwindled: the last time an astronaut left his footprints on the moon was in 1972.
Plants such as lettuce, peppers and tomatoes will be on the menu at Moon Base One.
Then, in January 2004, President Bush announced NASA’s intention to return humans to the moon by 2020, and in 2006, NASA announced plans to set up a manned lunar outpost by 2024, with the European and Russian Space Agencies now planning bases of their own. After years in limbo, the dream of living in space is alive once more.
Sustaining long-term space habitation presents space agencies with a whole new set of technological and logistical challenges. Currently, the International Space Station supports three astronauts in a low Earth orbit, with food supplied periodically by space shuttle. But, just as home cooking is cheaper than getting takeout, when it comes to more permanent settlements, this kind of supply voyages would be prohibitively expensive: we will need to grow our own food in space.