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Scientists Develop Way to Grow Food in Extreme Climates

Scientists at the University of Arizona have developed a way to grow food in extreme climates. It is a special growth chamber and it is currently being used in Antarctica. As Amy Katz reports, scientists hope it will ultimately help provide food for possible colonies on the Moon and Mars.

In a growth chamber in Antarctica, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers are being grown alongside flowers. Lane Patterson, of the University of Arizona, runs this chamber at the United States South Pole station and has already spent nine months there. He says all the plants, including the flowers, are edible -- in compliance with an international treaty. He also says South Pole Station personnel, who are isolated at the base for eight months a year, appreciate the chamber for more than just the food.

"Coming to a place that's green, pleasant, warm and has high humidity is also something that is very beneficial to the crew there at the South Pole," he says

Mr. Patterson says keeping the chamber that way depends on a lot of lights. The 1,000 watt bulbs are kept in special, water-cooled jackets that prevent them from burning the plants, and keep the lights cool enough to touch.

"This is a proven technology. It is relatively inexpensive and it is rugged,” says Mr. Patterson. “At the South Pole there is no re-supply during the winter, so if bulbs burn out faster than what you thought, then there is no re-supply, no vegetables."

Lane Patterson is due to return to Antarctica soon, to refine the system, which scientists hope could someday be used on the Moon or Mars.