Work at NASA has focused heavily on hydroponics for many years, since plants are considered crucial for the hopes of prolonged spaceflight. Flourishing plants would aid astronauts in many critical processes such as food production, oxygen release and waste recycling. Hydroponic systems have traditionally been complex, however, so NASA researchers started looking for a substrate that would eliminate many of those hassles. This led them to explore an option known as zeolites, which are naturally occurring minerals with honeycomb structures that can be modified to house essential nutrients until plants are ready to consume them.
This development in slow-release fertilization is now being applied commercially in places like golf courses and playing fields. Zeoponic products are better at delivering nutrients to plants, so much less is lost to surrounding soil and groundwater. Plants also thrive more when zeolites are present, so plant biomass production goes up.
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