When We All Move to Space, We’ll Have to Be Picky About Houseplants
LaShelle Spencer knew that she was supposed to kill Alfred, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Technically his job was done, and Spencer had been instructed to dispose of him and get on with her work. But he was just so small, so fragile—a spindly little lima bean sprouting in a plastic baggie.
Spencer, a food production horticulturalist at NASA, was shut inside a hangar at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) Facility, an experimental setup that models, among other things, crew dynamics and the effects of long-term isolation associated with space travel. The quarters look a bit like a beige yurt set atop a few big septic tanks, and a four-person crew spends several weeks at a time inside the 636-square-foot space. During her “mission” to an asteroid, Spencer passed the time the way an astronaut would, maintaining experiments, working out, and performing drills in the three-story structure. Her tour of duty was 30 days—much less time than it would take a person to reach Mars—but it did not take long for the gray, white, and stainless steel interior to wear on her. “You do start to gravitate toward that green color of home,” she says.