Blazing a trail for future astronaut-gardeners

Science fiction about space travel tends to focus on the big-picture issues, like exploring strange new worlds,  seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before.  But when humans really do travel in space, their success will have as much to do with how well they eat as how fast their warp-drive engines can shoot them between the planets and the stars.

Dr. Matthew Mickens

Dr. Matthew Mickens

Dr. Matthew Mickens, a 2012 Aggie Ph.D. grad, is one of a group of  NASA scientists exploring how to grow food aboard spacecraft as productively as possible. He’s a member of a team at Kennedy Space Center, working on an Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Habitation project.

The researchers are growing vegetables under different lighting conditions suitable for use during space travel, including broad spectrum florescent lighting and blue and red LEDs.  The type of light makes a difference.  From a report in Science Daily this week:

“Even subtle changes in light quality can potentially increase antioxidant properties of crops such as the lettuce used here,” Mickens said. “The nutritional quality of the vegetables meant to feed our astronaut explorers can be controlled by proper selection of lighting used to grow these crops during long range space missions beyond low Earth orbit.”

Mickens received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at A&T. While in grad school, he had a Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship, sponsored by NASA, and a North Carolina Space Grant Fellowship.  He received his  Ph.D. from the interdisciplinary energy and environmental sciences program.

More about the research being conducted by Mickens and the team he is part of is at

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