In a breakthrough for space plant research, first plant transplant has taken place in the International Space Station’s Vegetable Production System (Veggie) facility.
NASA researches crop production in space because plants can provide nutrients to astronaut crews on long-duration missions, such as a mission to Mars.
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, an Expedition 64 crew member, who arrived to the station for a six-month science mission aboard the SpaceX Crew-1 mission, tended different varieties of mustards and lettuces in VEG-03I.
He noticed the mustards were growing fine in their special “pillows” containing clay-based growth media and fertilizer.
Two plant pillows containing ‘Outredgeous’ Red Romaine and ‘Dragoon’ lettuce seeds were germinating slowly, growing well behind the other plants. However, with input from Veggie program scientists at Kennedy, the astronaut transplanted extra sprouts from the thriving plant pillows into two of the struggling pillows.
The transplants – ‘Red Russian’ kale and ‘Extra Dwarf’ pak choi – are surviving and growing along with the donor kale and pak choi. The remaining red romaine lettuce and “Wasabi” mustard in the experiment are also ready for harvest.
“This experiment is just really amazing; it shows the skill of the astronauts, the care that they take to do things, and also the differences that you see in microgravity,” Veggie Program Plant Scientist Gioia Massa said. “Fluids behave very differently in space than on the ground. The behaviour of fluids – in this circumstance – seems to have helped the plants.”
“We’re used to microgravity working against us in the fluids/physics department, making growing plants in space very difficult,” Matt Romeyn, VEG-03I science lead said. “So to have an exception like this, where microgravity appears to be helpful and the plants are growing better than on Earth … that’s astonishing.”
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