Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have already harvested a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce on the orbital laboratory. Now they are all set to witness flowers blooming in space. NASA announced that astronaut Kjell Lindgren had activated the “Veggie” plant growth system along with its rooting “pillows” containing Zinnia seeds aboard the ISS on Monday.
Growing flowering crops is far more challenging
Zinnia belongs to the sunflower tribe in the daisy family. For the first time in history, a flowering crop will be grown on the space station, NASA said in a statement. Zinnia’s growth in the orbiting laboratory will provide information about whether other flowering plants could also be grown in space. Developed by Orbital Technologies Corp, the Veggie system, along with one set of Zinnias and two sets of pillows containing romaine seeds, was sent to the space station by a SpaceX resupply mission in April 2014.
Gioia Massa, NASA’s payload scientist for Veggie, said growing flowering crops in space would be far more challenging than growing a vegetative crop like lettuce. Environmental and lighting parameters become more critical. NASA said Kjell Lindgren would turn on the red, green and blue LED lights, and activate the nutrient and water systems to monitor the plant’s growth.
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NASA plans to grow tomatoes in space in 2017
The Zinnias are expected to grow for 60 days, compared to just 33 days of the romaine lettuce that grew on the ISS. The LED lights will be on for 10 hours a day to stimulate Zinnias to flower. The experiment will allow astronomers to grow and eat fruiting plants like tomatoes, using the Veggie system as an in-orbit garden. NASA plans to grow tomato plants in space in 2017.
The US space agency believes that having fresh food available in space will likely boost astronomers’ moods. It will also help provide protection against space radiation. In the long run, the Veggie system could be used for recreational activities in deep space missions to Mars and beyond.