Food in Space - Reel or UnReal Episode 11

Posted on Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023

Reel or UnReal Logo appears

Episode 11 appears

[Orbax]- Hello!

Orbax here for another episode of Reel or Unreal, where today we're exploring food production off planet.

And joining us is Professor Mike Dixon from the Controlled Environment System Research Facility, here at the University of Guelph!

A still image of the CESRF building is shown. Video switches to a close-up of Orbax wearing goggles and twisting his moustache, then a text bubble over most of the screen, saying, “Can we grow food on Mars?” Then switches to Dr. Mike Dixon and Orbax in the CESRF Lab.

[Orbax]- So we can travel throughout the solar system, but we can't always bring a lunch bag with us.

Will we be able to grow food on Mars?

Video collage of growing containers for Mars, mars rover then swtiches back to Mike and Orbax talking the lab.

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - We have to and we're developing the technologies here to do exactly that, creating enough food for astronauts to explore Mars, find life, which is the plan. But food determines how far from Earth we can go and how long we can stay.

So we have to figure this out and this kind of research activity is exactly what we're up to.

[Orbax]- Mike, what is the power of plants in space?

Video switches to a close up of plants being grown in containers and a list appears as Mike indicates the uses of plants in space.

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - Well, food, as I told you, drives the equation so we can eat them.

They give us oxygen with photosynthesis.

They consume our carbon dioxide and they recycle fresh water and they make us feel good; so a little bit of hort therapy thrown in there.

Video switches to a close-up of Orbax wearing goggles and twisting his moustache, then a text bubble over most of the screen, saying, “With Mars in mind, what research breakthroughs have we made here at U of G that benefit Earth?” Then switches to Dr. Mike Dixon and Orbax in the CESRF Lab.

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - Virtually everything we do here is pulled by that technical challenge to go to Mars and grow food for human life support.


There are lots of technical challenges, but since we we're not going to Mars yet, almost all of the technologies we develop end up as servicing terrestrial agrifood.

Still images of the landscapes mention show on screen as they are indicated. Northern communities, desert, map indicating Yellowknife.

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - So agriculture on Earth, especially harsh environments, like the north of Canada or the deserts of the Middle East, places where food security is an issue.

The technologies we develop here to grow food on the moon and Mars is exactly what's required to grow food in a snowbank in Yellowknife.

[Orbax]- Yeah.

Is there any specific science that you do here that we can point to that benefits us here, but also would be going forward into the universe?

A series of still images of plants being grown under various coloured lights is shown, then it switches back to Mike and Orbax

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - Well, you see all these LED lights behind us here, and you'll see some different colors around the project.

We've learned that the different color of light creates different chemistry inside the plant, and that creates different taste, different colors, different medicinal compounds, profiles.

And that's helping us solve one of the key issues in plants for medicine, for example, or nutrition.

We can standardize the profiles of nutritional or medicinal compounds.

Video switches to a close-up of Orbax wearing goggles and twisting his moustache, then a text bubble over most of the screen, saying, “Reality of 3D printing food? Replicator on Star Trek?” Then switches back to Mike and Orbax talking in the lab.

[Orbax]- What parallel means of producing food do we have?

You know, we can grow food, but can we, will we ever see the equivalent of like a Star Trek replicator?

Will we be able to 3D print food when we're up there?

Series of images and videos showing food replication and a Star Trek clip. Then back to Mike and Orbax at the lab.

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - Absolutely. I think we can do it now, can't we?

There's the you know, the veggie burgers and those sorts of things.

And basically all you have to do is put the right chemistry together in a tube.

[Orbax]- So inside this controlled environment, what variables are we working with to produce food in space?

Cuts to video clip of plants growing in the lab and back to Mike and Orbax.

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - So light color is a new kid for us, and we've learned a lot with that.

But light, CO2, temperature, humidity, nutrients, and water, and those are in the root zone.

And very what I call high fidelity; so really precise tight control over those gives us the predictability of the outcome.

[Orbax]- I mean, the whole point of the series is exploring pop culture and where the science is in that.

Based on your experience in the sci-fi universe and the movies that you've seen, who gets it right?

A series of movie posters is inset along the bottom of the screen.

[Orbax]- Where are we looking that's the closest representation to off world food?

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - The closest scientifically accurate sci-fi movie in recent years has been The Martian.

Video cuts to a clip of The Martian

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - So that arithmetic that Matt Damon was doing with his potatoes, that's exactly what we do here.

We predict the nutritional composition of a range of food crops in a menu that's preset and that'll determine how long you can live.

And like I said, food drives the equation.

So he was doing exactly what he had to do to determine how long he could survive on Mars.

[Orbax]- So it turns out in The Martian, the science is more real than unreal.

Real! Appears across the screen.

[Dr. Mike Dixon] - Yeah.

[Orbax]- Straight from the Matt Damon of the University of Guelph, Professor Mike Dixon himself!

Find related news by keyword

News Archive