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Space Gardening 101

You can’t escape eating (or gardening!) your vegetables, even if you’re in space. On Aug. 10, astronauts on the International Space Station sampled their first space grown salad. This freshly harvest red romaine lettuce was grown in the “Veggie” plant growth chamber that is designed to make gardens flourish in weightlessness.

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In a weightless environment, there is no up and down, so roots grow in all directions. Water and soil, the materials used to anchor these plants and allow for root growth tend to float away.

How Do We Grow Plants in Space? 

1. Plant Pillows

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The Veggie chamber helps solve the problems of a weightless environment by using ‘plant pillows’, sounds comfy right? These pillows are bags filled with material for growing plants in space. 

2. Wicks

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Wicks are implanted into the bags and are used to draw water from inside the pillow to the plant.

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These wicks also provide a place to glue the seeds. It’s important to orient the seeds so roots will grow ‘down’, and shoots that emerge will push out of the bag.

3. LED Lights

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LED lights are used for photosynthesis and give the shoots a sense of direction so they keep growing upward. The walls of the Veggie chamber can expand to make room for the plant as it grows.

The purple/pinkish hue surrounding the plants in Veggie is the result of a combination of the red and blue lights, which is what the plants need to grow. Green LEDS were added so the plants look like edible food rather than weird purple plants.

Why are we growing plants in space?

When astronauts travel on deep space missions, like Mars, they will need to be self-sufficient for long periods of time. Having the ability to grow their own food is a big step in that direction. There is also a desire to grow flowering vegetables in space, which is why we are currently tending to zinnia flowers on orbit. Growing these flowering plants will help us understand longer duration growing plants that have to flower in space, such as tomatoes.

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What’s Next? The next SpaceX delivery will include seeds for a small cabbage and additional red romaine lettuce. Upcoming experiments will use various ratios of red and blue lights and different fertilizers in attempts to improve crop yield, nutrition and flavor. The findings from these experiments can be utilized both on Earth and in space.

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In addition to the nutrition benefits of growing vegetables in space, the psychological benefits are also significant. Having living plants can help with stress and increase the crews’ enjoyment. It provides the sights, smells and tastes of Earth.

To learn more about gardening in space, watch ScienceCast HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Source: NASA

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Space Gardening 101

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