Orbital Bamboo


Hi!  Becky Zukas here.  I love my job as an astronaut,  and so I’m here to talk a little bit about the  future in space.   Space colonies?  Certainly.  Space industry?  You bet.  Mining, smelting, forming, and manufacturing will play a major role in space finances.  But I’m talking about something else that is  just as important:  Farms.    Most space buffs understand the need for food, and you often see pictures of the idealized interiors of gigantic space wheels with abundant crops of wheat, tomatoes, corn, and whatnot.  However, you need cash crops as well as produce, and I’m thinking of one not much talked about, but could be a real game-changer:  bamboo.

Farming in an orbital station, or inside an asteroid,  making it possible to feed people without shipping up freeze packets from earth, would make a great deal of sense, econimacally.  But farming is more than just produce for sustainment.  There should be a cash crop as well, something versatile and useful to other colonists that a farmer can trade with.

I would like to make bamboo as my first nomination.

Bamboo is the poor man’s forest grove.  It has almost all the qualities of real wood, with only a few disadvantages in comparison, such as producing major supporting beams or wide planks.

For example, one of its main advantages is that it grows very fast.  For some species,  almost a full meter on a good day.  Harvest the stalks, and you can do almost anything with them that you could do with real wood.  You can make furniture, lamp stands, interior dividing walls and floors.  You might notice that I use the word, ‘floors’, here.  I’m talking about a residence, not living quarters.  As a shipboard type, I get sick of having everything below your feet to be referred to as a ‘deck’.  You can also have drinking cups and tableware.  It doesn’t even have to be a large colony, either.  You could even build a snug, tiny little cottage inside one of the hollowed-out caverns of stone that you find in a mining asteroid.  It would be pleasing to the eye.  With warm, ‘natural’ floors and walls separating delicate humans away from the cold rock of a billion years in cold space, it would be a psychological boon as well.

OK, just to make the environmentalists back on earth happy, I should add that the living plant is a great collector and holder of Carbon Dioxide (CO2).  A hectare of bamboo can absorb over 60 tons of CO2in a year’s time, while a stand of wood the same size will only absorb about 15 tons.  On top of the absorption of  CO2, bamboo releases oxygen for human and animal breathing.

Another aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked is human nature itself.  People get depressed after long periods without the sight of green, living things.  A small group of bamboo plants among all the other plants nearby is just pleasant to look at.   Good for morale all around.

There are many other uses for bamboo.  Once split into small, lengthy strands, it can be treated by chemical solvents or milling machinery and made into clothing yarn.  In return, it can be made into anything from underwear, to shirts, and jeans.  Those wonderful woven mats of Asian homes on old Earth, as well as sandals for casual wear.  After all, everyone gets tired of space boots!

Bamboo saves water usage, too.  Its use of water is twice as efficient as that for an ordinary tree, and far more efficient than cotton.  As an added benefit, bamboo uses less water than both trees and cotton combined.  Also, biodegradable item, the leaves, the plant shucks, and sprouts can be added to any compost mix.     Discarded bamboo wood can be charred and smoldered to make charcoal, which is vital in manufacturing artificial soil such as the Brazilian Terra Prima, a very rich soil for food crops.

Simply as a side note, of the 1500-odd species of bamboo that we have available, over 100 of them are edible to humans in the early stages.  There are dozens of recipes for salads, soups, stews, and a host of sauces.  For that matter, the larger stems of bamboo have long been utilized as cooking pots and containers for brewing teas.  People have claimed that doing so adds an enhanced, subtle flavor to whatever is cooked in them.  Just to upset some of the more righteous types out there, bamboo can also be fermented into a potent alcoholic brew.

In short, whatever can be done with wood can be done with bamboo.  I haven’t mention paper, because no one likes paperwork.  Well-l-l-l, it’s a good bet that bamboo-based paper will be right there on any bureaucrat’s desk.  All in all, this tough, hardy, supremely useful relative of grass will be as common a companion as dogs and cats, when mankind finally steps out to stride among the stars.

Catch you later, people.  This is Becky, signing off.


A web comic about the space industry. Every Monday one page and one article is added until the complete 39 page story is finished. See what happens when the space industry tries to be profitable, and the astronauts find they’re in for a big surprise.