Pollination on Mars
Anton G. Branz (1999)
A manned mission to Mars (including landing) will take about 2 years. A one way trip will take about 8 months, but depends heavily on the trajectory flown. The length of stay on Mars might take one to three months.
The crew consists of two to three members. The crew needs among other things food, oxygen, and water.
The freshness of the food decreases certainly over time. To eat canned food for a duration of two or three years is not only a matter of taste, but can cause physical as well as mental health problems.
The weight resp. the mass of the food plus packaging/containment are to be transported, the needed oxygen plus containment as well.
The required water quantity is somewhat less because of its potential to be recycled.
The biological waste can be entrusted to the infinite deepness of space as a hidden message from Earth.
A reduction of the masses as planned in this first version can be reduced by usage of three biological cycles which have food plants as a central point.
The first loop is the oxygen- carbondioxyde loop: Humans breathe in oxygen (O2) and exhale Carbondioxyde. Plants take in this carbondioxyde and release oxygen.
A sufficiently large quantity of plants can be used as oxygen generators, which reduces the required amount of oxygen and related containers considerably.
The second loop is the fruit- compost loop: Humans eat the fruits of plants and leave digested „compost" as fertiliser for the plants.
A sufficiently large quantity of plants can be used not only for oxygen production but also as food producers, which would reduce the quantity of food to be transported.
These two loops reduce waste to a minimum. The exhaled carbon dioxyde is taken by the plants and oxygen is released.
Similarily, compost is converted by the plants to appetising titbits such as cabbage, spinach, radish, onion, dry bean, rice, carrot, chard, tomato, sweet and white potato, peanut, lettuce, wheat, or soyabean. And by the way, everything is quite fresh.
The third loop is the water loop: Used water can be cleaned and used for watering plants. Plant soil can do the cleaning to a certain extent as happens here on the ground as and it becomes drinking water.
Part of the water is taken from the plant´s roots and released via the leaves (as oxygen is released). That water can be condensed (and after mineral enrichment of course) and used as drinking water as well.
Here we make use of the symbiosis of plants and humans.
But why does a little beekeeper take a remote interest in something like a trip to Mars?
When plants bear fruits they must first bloom and get pollinated. Originally, this was done by the wind.
Some plants are wind pollinated which needs a fan when they are grown in a closed space as in a greenhouse.
Some plants need other means to be pollinated such as insects, hummingbirds or humans. Pollination by humans can be done by using a small brush from bloom to bloom or by applying vibrations which make the pollen float and let them find their way to their destination (bloom ...).
Nowadays it can be even more modern: Bumblebees (lat.: Bombus) can be bought in a cardboard box and put into a greenhouse to do their job. Bumblebees are more cost- effective and reliable than human pollinators.
Pollination does not neccessarily have a binary result: Pollinated or not. There can also be an intermediate result: poorly pollinated by too little pollen. A prerequisite for proper fruit production is a proper pollination. Insects do this quite well in nature.
During a long distance and long duration space flight one might use astronauts with a little brush in their hand as pollinators of their own food to avoid not undangerous boredoom.
Pollination by bees in a closed green house with transparant walls and ceiling is apparently not possible.
A larger experiment of this kind was done by the American Biosphere II test installation.
In a bee flight room (BFR) with non- transparant walls and artificial illumination, bees can do their job very well.
First Steps towards a Mars Mission
Survival in a closed bee flight room (BFR).
Successfull experiments on the survival of bees in a separate, from nature disclosed bee flight room over a longer time were done by the Niedersächsischen Landesinstitut für Bienenkunde in Celle, Lower Saxony, Germany, by J.P. van Praagh.
Bees were fed with sugar solution, plain water and fine ground pollen outside the hive. The harvest was done by the bees directly. A high air humidity caused a high brood rate. Swarming impulse was low. Experiment duration was 18 months.
At the Research Centre for Insect Pollination and Beekeeping, "Ambrosiushoeve", in Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands, similar experiments were done with bumblebees by Ing. J. van den Eijnde.
Here bumblebees are reared for pollination in greenhouses.
Survival of bees under micro gratity
The influence of the absence of gravity on the survival, behavior, and comb building capability of bees was already researched during the NASA Space Shuttle Mission STS-13 in April 1984.
For this purpose two identical bee hives were made: one for the actual shuttle flight and one as reference model on the ground. These bee- tight hives had an aluminium case and a transparent cover. The size was 12x38x46cm. Three wooden frames were contained, one with a 7.5x7.5cm drawn- out comb, two with comb foundation of the same size but without imprinted cell pattern (with a smooth surface).
At the one side of the hive there where the 3 frames, on the other side a feeder (with sugar syrup). The space inbetween served as flight room. Additionally there were two ventilation holes, a fan and two thermometers.
Beside the queen there were 3400 worker bees. About 200cm2 comb were built during this space flight and part of the sugar syrup was gathered.
The queen filled the comb with 35 eggs. They tried to rear these eggs later on the ground but without success. During the total flight duration only a few bees died.
The cell density of newly built combs were 860 cells per 100cm2 in orbit, 800 cells per 100cm2 at ground.
After first trials under micro gravity conditions the bees learned to take off properly, fly and land between the feeder and frames.
Next Steps to be taken towards Mars
For bumblebees such experiments are still to be conducted.
Pollination under micro gravity conditions.
As well as pure survival in orbit, pollination of blooms by bees or bumblebees, under micro gravity conditions has yet to be researched.
In a bee flight room no propolis can be collected when the neccessary plants or special trees are not present. Maybe a new breed of such trees such as bonsai types or bonsai size might be a solution.
A survival and active duration of three years is not a problem for a queen bee.
A bumblebee colony has a lifetime of several months. How an overlapping running of several bumblebee colonies over such a time duration can be achieved needs to be found out.
Plants/crop rearing Tests
Presently tests with the following plants, as mentioned already before, are going on at NASA:
cabbage, spinach, radish, onion, dry bean, rice, carrot, chard, tomato, sweet and white potato, peanut, lettuce, wheat, and soyabean.
Mission constraints are: crew time, shelf life, safety, storage, power, and food processing like flour grinding, baking bread, pressing oil from soyabeans.
- /P_72/ Praagh, J.P., van, (1992) Towards a controlled-environment room suitable for normal colony life of honeybees. J.apic.Res.,11: pp77-87.
- /Pa75/ Praagh, J.P., van, (1975) Light-ripple and visual acuity in a climate room for honeybees (Apis Mellifera L.). Neth.J.Zool.,25(4): pp506-515.
- /Pb75/ Praagh, J.P., van, (1995) Die Feuchtigkeit der Stockluft und die Bruttätigkeit der Bienen (Apis Mellifera L.) in einem Flugraum. Apid. 6: pp283-293.
- /V+85/ Vandenberg, J.D., et al, (1985) Survival, behavior and comb construction by honey bees, Apis mellifera, in zero gravity aboard NASA Shuttle Mission STS-13. Apid. 16: pp369-384.
- /P_87/ Praagh, J.P., van, Brinkschmidt, B., (1987) Pollen Collecting Behavior of Apis mellifera in a Bee Flight Room. Eder/Rembold, Chemistry and Biology of Social Insects, Verlag J.Peperny, München 1987, pp571-572.
- /E_90/ Eijnde, J.v.d., (1990) Ganzjährige Züchtung von Hummelvölkern für die Bestäubung in Gewächshäusern: eine rasche Entwicklung. ADIZ 6: pp12-14
- /WS92/ Witte, Günther R., Seger, Juliane, (1992) Hummelmanagement. Unterricht Biologie 174: pp52-53.