The Space Farming Project: Space colonization, techno-agriculture and the future of extraterrestrial biopolitics

Angelo C.J. Vermeulen*, Ramona van Gansbeke, Nick Pannecoucque, Rufin Degrande, Bart Leenknecht, Christophe de Jaeger, Frances Brazier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

In order to sustain human life for extended periods of time in deep space one cannot solely rely on support from Earth. It'll be essential to become self-sustaining through a combination of in situ resource utilization, waste recycling, and space farming. The latter can provide astronauts and colonists with locally grown food and biogenic oxygen, and will be an indispensable component of any future outpost in deep space. The type of agriculture that will develop itself in outer space will be extremely technologically mediated because of limited resources and the hostile conditions in which crops have to be cultivated. From a biopolitics perspective, this will cause a significant shift in power relations. Because of the extreme dependence on technology, the lack of open reservoirs (e.g., no atmosphere), and an atomized commodification of life-supporting resources (every molecule is valuable), space colonists will live in a world in which they are potentially vulnerable to inequalities, power concentrations, and even coercion. Historically, colonization and agriculture have always worked with each other. But in the unparalleled conditions of space, this dialectic relationship is bound to take on new contours, with its own unique set of ideologies and ethical ramifications. The 'Space Farming Project' is an art project that specifically addresses these issues. It was initiated by the international SEAD collective, developed in collaboration with Gluon and Howest, and supported by the Flemish Government. Together with a diverse community of volunteering technologists, agricultural researchers, teachers, and students, different space biology prototypes have been developed: a centrifuge for plant cultivation in space, a microgravity simulator, and experiments with spirulina algae and edible callus tissue. These are the central components of a larger art installation that also features visual and discursive references to the history and future of colonization, and its entwinement with agriculture. In this paper, the conceptual background of the 'Space Farming Project' is described, together with its development process and the resulting prototypes. The future of the project, with potential experiments on board the ISS, is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberIAC-19_E5_3_3_x52527
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
Volume2019-October
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019 - Washington, United States
Duration: 21 Oct 201925 Oct 2019
Conference number: 70
http://www.iafastro.org/publications/iac-papers/

Keywords

  • Agriculture
  • Biopolitics
  • Horticulture
  • Installation art
  • Regenerative life support
  • Space colonization

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