Growing plants without the use of soil is one of the most environmentally friendly methods to produce healthy food crops. Aeroponics grows plants using an aerosolized nutrient-rich mist and oxygen to feed and water the plants by the roots. This process greatly reduces the amount of water and energy needed to grow plants.
In 1997 and 1998, NASA sponsored a series of aeroponic studies aboard the MIR space station. Beans were planted at the same time in aeroponic systems on Earth and in the zero-gravity of the space station. All of the seeds grew quite well but those aboard the Mir grew significantly larger than those on Earth.
The space-based aeroponic system on the MIR space station demonstrated that this method of growing plants can provide efficient, rapid, pest-free, continuous, and sustainable food production. And it requires very little water (98% less than conventional farming), no bulky soil mass, and high quality nutritious food.
In 1999, NASA funded another study by Aeroponics International to develop an inflatable low-mass aeroponic system (AIS) for use both in space and on Earth. The resulting product is a self-contained, self-supporting, inflatable growing system that delivers a nutrient-rich mist to growing plant roots.
NASA funded these aeroponic system studies with the intent of astronauts being able to grow their own food during long travel periods and while stationed on other planets such as Mars. Aeroponics is one of the best suited methods to grow food, in space, on Mars, or on Earth, because of its low requirement for water and power and its high yield of nutritious plants.
If aeroponic growing systems can work in the small confines of a space station then it can certainly work in a small apartment or anywhere space is available. Commercially available home aeroponic systems are readily available with prices ranging between $100 for small table top models and $1,000 for larger models. Modern designers are also integrating aeroponics into new products including clear glass globes that are actually aeroponic planters.
One of the key considerations before starting a aeroponics system is that it requires technical knowledge of the working parts of the system; if any of the high pressure pumps, timers, sprinklers, or other system breaks all of the plants dependent upon it can die very rapidly. Regular cleaning and monitoring of the nutrient solution is also required to ensure healthy plant growth.
The aeroponics technology is very promising and is becoming more widespread and home gardeners and government agencies continue to invest and improve upon it.