Antarctica has been long considered as the land of ice and wind. It is seemingly as far away from being fertile as a place can possibly be. However, in a surprising turn of events, cucumbers have been found to grow on the coast of the continent, along with plants like peppery arugula, fresh herbs and Swiss chard.
These are the star greenhouse vegetables being studied under one out of the many scientific projects being conducted on Neumayer Station III. It is a Germany-based research facility’s third iteration and is governed by the Alfred Wegener Institute, focusing on polar science. The primary purpose of the greenhouse is seemingly lofty. It aims to be the laboratory for conducting studies on growing food in space. In particular, researchers who work there are interested in knowing if astronauts will be able to include fresh produce in their diets in case humans are finally able to travel to Mars.
Keeping ISS or International Space Station aside, Neumayer is one of the most potent places for investigation of this issue. It is situated on the Weddell Sea’s east coast, on the Ekström Shelf of Ice in Antarctica. It is accessible only by icebreaker or plane during the summers in the continent, if weather remains favorable. According to Esther Horvath, it is the only place on earth bearing close resemblance to outer space. Horvath is a photographer, who has stayed at the facility for nine days, back in January. The facility is different from standard stations designed for polar research as it functions on a shelf of ice throughout the year. No other facility is able to do that, thus making Neumayer unique. Only 9 crew members reside there at one point of time. Most of their activities are confined to one building, which consists of a large-screen television, a miniature basketball field and other facilities for downtime.