NASA astronauts are now growing flowers in space, and it is expected that the first blooms will appear sometime next year, it has recently been reported.
The Vegetable Production System (Veggie) flowering plant growth project commenced yesterday, November 16. The experiment is taking place on the International Space Station (ISS), and it’s entirely unprecedented, given that never before have flowering crops been grown outside our planet’s realm, in an orbiting laboratory.
The Veggie setup, which was devised by Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC), had reached the ISS in April 2014, during a Space X commercial resupply mission.
It had come with 2 samples of Outredgeous red romaine lettuce seeds, and one sample of Zinnia seeds, which are part of the daisy family. Scientists had successfully been able to plant the leafy vegetables, but had taken their time growing the flowers as well.
After a long wait, the Zinnia project has now been activated by Taiwan-born Kjell N. Lindgren, a NASA astronaut who is a crew member of the ISS’s Expedition 44/45.
Scientists will be employing rooting pillows, where seeds are stored under LEDs that provide the ideal light intensity required for each stage of the growth process.
Every day, electroluminescence will be emitted by these red, green and blue sources, which will be active for 10 hours, and paused for 14 hours, in order to replicate day and night patterns encountered on Earth.
Throughout this cycle, which is expected to last approximately 60 days, the plants will be closely monitored by Lindgren. It is hoped that brightly colored Zinnia flowers will eventually bloom within the confines of the space station’s laboratory, sometime after New Year’s Eve.
The importance of the trial lies in the fact that it will provide researchers will practical information regarding the types of flowering plants that would be capable of thriving in space.
According to Gioia Massa, NASA Kennedy Space Center payload scientist, it takes much more extensive and meticulous work in order to grow flowers, than when it comes to other types of vegetation, such as leafy greens.
For example, when astronauts managed to plant lettuce crops in the ISS lab, it took around half as much time (about 33 days), and the process was greatly simplified.
That is because flowering crops are much more sensitive to environmental stimuli, and each parameter in their surroundings must be at optimal levels. This includes the variable quantities of water which the plants must receive, as well as their amount of essential nutrients and vital lighting.
Provided that the new experiments yielded the expected results, astronauts might soon grow even fruiting crops such as tomatoes, which the crew could come to rely on for sustenance. In fact, current plans state that the popular red-hued fruit will be planted on the ISS as early as 2017.
This would turn the laboratory into an “in-orbit” garden, according to Trent Smith, Veggie System’s program manager. Astronauts have already eaten lettuce they grew themselves, without experiencing any health issues. They simply sanitized the leaves with wet wipes containing citric acid, and this rendered the salad safe for consumption.
Aside from these obvious nutrition benefits, having fresh food on the space station might also boost morale among crew, and also protect them from radiation’s harmful effects, believes Dr. Ray Wheeler, head of advanced life support activities at the Kennedy Space Center.
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