The first space flower is in full bloom on the ISS (International Space Station) and the ship’s commander has just released a picture of this unprecedented sight.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly shared the image with his Twitter followers on Saturday, January 16, as proof that yet another experiment involving the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) has been successful.
Veggie, which was invented by a team of researchers at ORBITEC (Orbital Technologies Corporation), was brought on the ISS in April 2014, aboard the SpaceX CRS-3 Dragon spacecraft, during a resupply mission.
It’s basically an intricate structure used by astronauts in order to grow plants in space. It includes an irrigation mat, and bellows that promote air circulation.
Above the mat, calcined clay pillows with seeds can be placed, and depending on the plant’s growth cycle and needs, specific amounts are poured, in order to favor germination.
Lighting is ensured thanks to a series of red, green and blue LEDs whose brightness and orientation can be adjusted in order to mimic the diurnal cycle, and also the passage of seasons.
Similarly, temperature can also be changed in the cabin so that the small herbs can grow just as they would in nature.
The deployable Veggie system was first used by ISS astronauts in order to grow outredeous red romaine lettuce back in 2014.
Initially, the experiment failed, given the fact that irrigation was insufficient, but the second attempt, carried out starting from July 8, 2015, was crowned with success. In just 33 days, astronauts were able to harvest the first batch of leafy vegetables grown on their spacecraft.
They also had so much faith in the fact that the salad was fit and safe for consumption that, after sanitizing it with citric acid wet wipes, they promptly feasted on it, adding a bit of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to make the meal more flavorful.
While the news was heavily publicized at the time, that wasn’t actually the first time that produce was grown aboard a spacecraft.
Russian cosmonauts managed to harvest peas and mizuna lettuce (Japanese mustard) ever since 2002, using a greenhouse known as the Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit.
However, space flowers had never bloomed before, so NASA astronauts can definitely be credited for this achievement, especially since the experiment appeared doomed to fail around a month ago.
At the time, astronauts had to remove mold that had formed on the flowers, and packed it in ice so that it could be properly analyzed back on Earth.
The orange plants, related to sunflowers and daisies, also appeared rather frail and withered, but it looks like they made an unexpected comeback, and are now in blooming beautifully.
Astronauts are especially proud because Zinnias have much longer growth cycle than lettuce (amounting to around 60 to 80 days), and are also much more delicate and difficult to grow, being influenced heavily by any changes in the environment.
Now that this mission of creating a space flower was accomplished, Veggie project manager Trent Smith is hoping that tomatoes will also be grown successfully on the ISS sometime in 2018.
As explained by NASA researcher Gioia Massa, who is the one who masterminded the entire plant growing system, the ultimate aim is to produce fresh fruit and vegetables on the spacecraft on a regular basis.
Having edible plants on board would help filter and purify the air, make it easier to complete lengthier space missions, without relying on constant re-supply missions, and would also diversify the astronauts’ daily diet, which consists mostly of freeze-dried foods.
In addition, having access to fresh food would also have a positive effect on the crew’s morale, and provide them with a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals.
For now, the next step in the Veggie experiment is to grow red romaine lettuce once again, as well as Chinese cabbage; the seeds will be supplied by another SpaceX cargo ship this year.
Image Source: Instagram