Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) seem to have a lot of fun. After the crew have successfully grown the first lettuce abroad of the orbital laboratory, NASA proudly presents first flower grown in space. The feat was made public by NASA astronaut Scott Kelley via his Twitter account on Jan. 16.
ISS members now hope to redo the experiment and try and grow other flowering plants such as tomatoes. If those experiments are successful, they could pave the way to a new era when astronauts on long-term missions could grow their own produce. NASA thinks that the dream would come true at some point in 2018.
Kelly, who is now in charge with the orbital station’s veggie garden, dubbed the orange Zinnia flower the first ever ‘Space Flower.’ He proudly presented it to the world on Saturday. The achievement was astounding, however, since a few months ago the space plant looked rather shriveled and odds for it to bloom were minimal.
On Earth, NASA researchers dubbed the experiment ‘Veggie.’ They were also eager to learn whether a flower could bloom in zero-gravity conditions. ISS astronauts picked Zinnias for their experiment because they are very easy to grow and they sprout rather quickly.
Gioia Massa, the mastermind behind the Veggie experiment, explained that growing fresh produce in space is ‘critical’ for long-distance space exploration. Currently, astronauts eat only freeze-dried food brought from Earth. They can rarely see fresh food since re-supply deliveries are rather rare and costly.
Massa explained that growing fresh food in space is needed by astronauts for at least three reasons. First, they provide oxygen while they grab the harmful carbon dioxide. Second, as astronauts will no longer rely on supplies from Earth, they could move farther into space. Third, there are documented psychological benefits of eating fresh foods especially in the grim environment of deep space.
The Veggie experiment had its debut in 2014. Since then, astronauts have been experimenting with red romaine lettuce in zero-G conditions. They used trays filled with special clay to grow the plants. The clay which can be found on baseball fields helps oxygen reach faster the seeds so the plants can grow quickly. Plants got their light from LED lights, and were fertilized by an automatic system.
The same method of growing the lettuce was used in the case of Zinnia.
But there were some failed attempts to grow both plants. For instance, astronauts had some hard times in finding the right amount of moisture for the plants. Many plants failed to grow because of drought stress or over-watering.
Image Source: Flickr