Farmers vs. astronauts: Cosmosphere hosts unique competition

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A competition hosted by the Cosmosphere is pitting Kansas farmers and the nation’s astronauts against each other. 

“Earth v. the International Space Station Agriculture Contest” invites students fourth through twelfth grades to take on crews from the International Space Station (ISS) in a competition to grow the most food within a one-cubic meter garden space. 

“So it’s us versus the astronauts,” said Cosmosphere Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tracey Tomme. “We looked at different experiments that they are currently doing on station and many of those are revolving around growing food and having food on long-duration space flight, so growing food, we know how to do that and that’s why we picked agriculture.”

Three winners will be selected and each of them will receive a Cosmosphere camp package for the 2019 summer camp season.

Nick Westerhaus, 12, is one of the competitors.

“I want to be an astronaut,” said Nick.

Nick said he’s always been interested in space, but a recent trip to Johnson Space Center left a lasting impression on him and his life goals.

“It didn’t seem as unreachable as I thought it was when I was younger. It made it seem very achievable,” he said.

The soon-to-be 7th grader from Overland Park has created a hydroponic farm for the competition.

“I am growing lettuce, leafed lettuce not the big head of lettuce. I have spinach and I have a lot, a lot of radishes. They grow really, really well in hydroponics and also I can eat like everything they have including the roots and leaves,” Nick said.

The Cosmosphere said any type of growth medium, light source and fertilizer is allowed. However, plants must be grown from a seed and a weekly photo journal of the sowing of the seeds and the plants’ progress is required. 

“They don’t have to go buy fancy equipment. There’s no set standard for what to use and you know why because we don’t have one, so they just need to think about the parameters and what they can do,” Tomme explained. “They can use whatever lighting, whatever soil, no soil, hydroponic, aquaponic, in a field, on a patio, on a porch, doesn’t matter to us. They take their pictures, they collect their data turn it in.”

Winning totals will be calculated by the amount of edible food product, waste product, design and reporting, according to Tomme.

Nick said he’s hopeful he will win the summer camp to continue his dream of becoming an astronaut.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. 

The contest runs from May 1 through September 30. Click here for full details.

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