Geopolitics & How International Farming Could Bring Us All Together (in Space)4 min read

That timeless adage “can’t we all just get along?” applies even when you leave Earth’s atmosphere. The likelihood of survival while living long-term on the international space station (ISS) is dependant on the ability to work together and to grow food. Space colonization or terraforming Mars would require intensive work by the greatest minds from different countries from all over planet Earth. Being successful in space colonization will require putting any political differences aside when working with different nationalities on the ISS.

The great thing about being in space is you have to work with what you have, and no one is at a supreme advantage over one another — until the establishment of standing water and an oxygenated atmosphere. At present, currency is non-existent, and the amount of plantable space is only as large as the station was designed for. Working together is the only viable option for a successful farming operation. Luckily for planning’s sake, there is a consistent number of how many mouths that can be expected to feed — unlike the growing populations back on Earth.

Sustainability Study

Currently, back on Earth, the geopolitics of food scarcity is frightening. The rising temperatures and instances of drought are wiping out grain supplies, forcing nations to rely on imports from other countries. Those not yet stricken by drought are watching farmers more frequently irrigate their crops with water from non-replenishable aquifers in order to battle the heat. Astronauts from countries that may have been been in conflict on Earth now have the chance to work together in space.

Before writing this off, consider how this could benefit those back on the home planet. Aaron Berliner from the University of California, Berkeley, and Chris McKay from the Space Sciences Division at NASA Ames Research Center have projected that it will take about 100 years to warm the surface of Mars to by the equivalent of Earth’s. However, it could take up to 100,000 years to oxygenate the planet to support humans.

Practicing liberalism on an intergalactic scale could possibly ward off war and famine by putting aside and rejecting the power of international politics. The natural resources are limited on spacecrafts. This requires innovation to not only have a successful farming initiative on their space mission but to also bring back sustainable farming techniques to their homelands.

Old MacDonald Had A …

Any fully operational farm is home to farm animals. Livestock aid in the ecological processes that are needed to establish healthy soil and can also help in consuming plant matter waste. Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens have yet to make the leap onto the orbiting planets, but we should consider how it could be made feasible.

The animals would require the bare essentials, such as food, water and shelter. Food could be easily provided through grazing muzzles, but it raises the question: If there is no gravity, how would you secure a proper horse stable or barn? Would they even need one? At some point in the process, the animals would need to be acclimated to their new planet if we move forward with colonizing space.

To properly utilize the benefits they provide by mechanically breaking down organic material with their weight during grazing, they would need to gravity to do so. A possible near-future solution would be to give the animals their own pressurized cabin, however the mathematicians would be wise to do a return on investment analysis before moving forward with construction on the ISS.

Sappy Soil

One of the biggest challenges that astronauts face when living on a space station is the isolation and forced solitude. It can lead to mental stability concerns, causing hallucinations and depression, as well as raising other mental health issues. When feeling mentally unstable, there is a tendency to be swift to anger, which could lead to tension. However, research has found that skin-to-soil contact can help to elevate your mood as a result of the bacterias present.

The bacteria, M. vaccae, boosts the brains levels of serotonin and norepinephrine — the same effects that antidepressants cause. By farming together, every astronaut from every country will have access to this feel-good solution to the effects of isolation in space. Before you know it, after returning to Earth after some time at the ISS, the international group of astronauts will all be converting a vintage travel trailer into a traveling garden and singing “Kumbaya” together while delivering their CSA shares.

Putting politics aside, the idea of putting an international group of astronauts together to plan out their garden and where they will put the perennials is enough to make a master gardener cry. Terraforming Mars is within the next generation’s grasp and may be needed if Earth’s environment collapses. As you enjoy your next meal ask yourself, what seeds would you take with you to Mars if you had to choose?


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Avery Phillips is a freelance human based out of the beautiful Treasure Valley. She loves all things nature, especially humans, and was driven to pursue an Anthropology degree due to her childhood love of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft. Now she lovingly writes about all things great and small.

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