Breakthrough: Astronomers aboard the International Space Station have successfully grown a flower to bloom, but will they be able to provide fresh veggies in space?
Researchers aboard the International Space Station have come one step closer to bringing agriculture beyond the planet Earth. According to a report from CS Monitor, astronaut Scott Kelly recently tweeted a photo of a Zinnia, the first flower to successfully bloom in near-Earth orbit.
The breakthrough was posted this Saturday, and will eventually lead to the production of flowering plants like tomatoes for food, astronauts say. The flower bloomed after the researchers had all but given up on the project; just last month, the plant was shriveled and covered in mold. Not wanting to waste any opportunity for space research, astronauts saved a frozen sample of the mold as well and sent it back to Earth.
The experiment, known as “Veggie” by scientists on the ground, aims to find out how plants react to the minimal gravity aboard the space station. It provides crucial practice for future missions that involve growing food.
According to Gioia Massa, a researcher from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, “I think having this fresh food source available is going to be critical. The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits.” Astronauts subsist on prepackaged freeze-dried food and the occasional fresh fruit or vegetable.
The Veggie project began in 2014, when astronauts successfully grew red romaine lettuce. The setup includes trays filled with water and bags of seeds submerged in a clay similar to the type used on baseball fields. They sit under efficient, low-temperature LED lights and are fed by an automatic fertilizer system.
The first attempt at growing lettuce in space failed due to drought stress, but the second batch came out much to the liking of ISS scientists in 2015. While astronauts have been growing simple plants like mizuna and peas aboard the space station for years, the leap to flowering plants opens up the door for possibilities like tomatoes and other fruits.
A press release regarding NASA’s ongoing research into space agriculture can be found here.