In the vast reaches of space , the answer to farming for sustenance from above the Earth's surface could be closer than we think. 

It's not a new concept , but students from the University of Hawaii at Manoa may be on the verge of a breakthrough, designing and developing an automated hydroponic system built for space. 

Four senior mechanical engineering students at UH Manoa took their prototype model known as 'Box Farm' to a NASA-funded Habitat at the University of North Dakota, and put it to the test. 

Pablo de León is University of North Dakota's Human Spaceflight Laboratory director. “My first look at it is that it is excellent work, very well designed and mechanically very sound, using state-of-the-art technology in some cases. I can tell by the way it is designed and the way mechanical problems have been solved.” 

According to UND , tending to space plants isn't cheap and it isn't quick either, as it occupies about 60 percent of a crew's time. 
The mission for the Manoa students is to successfully cut that time down in a space simulated environment. 

“Honestly we were so busy today that I never thought about the fact that we were inside a habitat, much less so a Martian one. Just another day at the office putting our system back together," said Gabor Paczolay, an UH Manoa engineering student 

According Pablo de Leon, these discoveries are only the beginning.  
“I think this is the future.  I’m not one of those people that thinks robots or humans. I think there will be a collaboration between robotic systems and human systems for the future exploration of space and this is an example of that.”

The Box Farm team won first place at the UH Manoa College of Engineering 'Francis J. Rhodes Montgomery innovation competition' in April.