Science & Technology

USU's Space Crop Expert Separates Fact from Fiction on Farming in Space

USU Department of Plants, Soils and Climate faculty member Bruce Bugbee in a USU greenhouse laboratory.

Professor Bruce Bugbee’s job title, director of Utah State University’s Crop Physiology Laboratory, conjures thoughts of a scientist whose work is firmly rooted in the earth. Rooted in the earth on Earth, that is. But for the past 33 years, the majority of Bugbee’s research has focused on how to grow food in space.

The book and now major movie The Martian makes growing food in space, or more precisely, on Mars key to the hero’s survival. As sci-fi fans head to theaters to see how fictional astronaut Mark Watney figures out how to survive, Bugbee has been busy explaining some of the finer points of the science of growing plants in space to reporters and examining what the story gets right and where it’s more fiction than science.

Fielding questions from journalists and writing invited guest commentaries isn’t the usual day’s work for the Department of Plants, Soils and Climate faculty member, but Bugbee considers it part of his job as an educator. And who knows, maybe some of the moviegoers who are intrigued by the challenges of growing food in space will join the ranks of students working in Bugbee’s lab.

Read about where Bugbee and others say The Martian gets the science right and wrong in coverage from around the world.

Writer: Lynnette Harris, College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, 435-797-2189,

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