Skip to Content

Farming in Space

Developing a Sustainable Food Supply on Mars

Helen S. Joyner

Perfect Day
Michael L. Allen
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Washington State University


If you were limited to choosing only three crops to sustainably farm in an arid, inhospitable environment, what would they be and how would you decide? This interrupted case study places students in the role of a proposed self-sufficient Martian colony that requires an optimized profile of food crops. After students form small groups, they discuss the factors that affect sustainability of a food supply, determine criteria for selection of crops to grow, and rank crops using these criteria. Lists of criteria and of foodstuffs are provided, but the case can easily be transformed into a problem-based learning (PBL) case by having students research and generate their own lists. The case includes questions that walk students through the selection process and require them to explain why they chose their criteria and how those criteria apply to their chosen foods. The case is designed for undergraduate students at the introductory level in courses in astronomy/astrobiology, food science/nutrition, agricultural engineering, or any discipline where sustainability is a key theme.


  • Identify sustainability considerations when developing a food supply capable of supporting a healthy population.
  • Prioritize criteria for selection of foodstuffs given limited growing area and resources.
  • Rank candidate species for food sources using selected criteria given information on available resources, crop yield, and nutritional needs.
  • Compare and contrast given choices for food sources and defend the chosen solution.
  • Apply critical and creative thinking when developing a solution.


Sustainability; sustainable agriculture; space farming; astrobiology; self-sufficiency; colonization; space colony; Mars

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type Methods

Analysis (Issues), Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Interrupted, Problem-Based Learning



Subject Headings

Agriculture Astronomy Engineering (General) Environmental Engineering Food Science / Technology Interdisciplinary Sciences Science (General) Statistics

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.

Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.