Alvin Drew, a former astronaut, and Dave Steitz, NASA’s Deputy Chief Technologist, spoke at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Ronks ahead of a two-day public exhibit to explain how NASA’s technology benefits the U.S. agriculture industry.
Here are three takeaways from their visit:
NASA tech is used by farmers
NASA tech is used regularly for agriculture, whether it be deployed on the ground, from the air or from space, Steitz, who has served as deputy for almost two years, said.
Examples include handheld chlorophyll meters, which allow farmers to know if their plants are under stress, and hyperspectral satellite technology, that identifies which crops, acre by acre, are ripe for harvest, Steitz said.
Infrared technology developed by NASA can also help farmers track herds of deer, which are a menace to crops, he added.
All of these technologies were first developed by the agency and shared with industry through the NASA Technology Transfer Program.
The 1958 Space Act, which created NASA, directs the agency to share the benefits of their research with the public.
The agency hopes that by sharing its technology with American industry, they can increase its competitiveness and provide a return on investment for the taxpayer dollars that fund NASA, Steitz said.
Agriculture gives back
Because they rely on freeze-dried food for months at a time, astronauts wait eagerly for fresh fruits and treasure their smell and flavor. Though Drew only flew for 12 and a half days on each of his two missions to the ISS, he remembers the joy his crew members had when they received fresh apples on Christmas Day.
NASA is also consulting with the agriculture industry for ways to develop hydroponic and aeroponic systems for growing food onboard the ISS, Drew said.
Drew participated in an experiment in the early 2010s that explored how the agency could grow nutritious vegetables like celery and radishes, somewhat like how Mark Watney, the central character in Andy Weir's sci-fi book and movie The Martian, did, he said.
NASA’s satellites are put to use to help the environment
In the western U.S., satellite imagery from NASA has been used to identify where the invasive wood beetle has devastated entire forests, Steitz said.
In Hawaii, NASA has helped a for-profit coffee grower determine which of its crops are viable for harvest.
When the Chesapeake Bay developed an algae problem, NASA was able to determine the cause was runoff from local hog farms through the use of satellites.