Flowers to bloom in space for astronauts’ future tomato project

By on
Zinnia
A butterfly lands on a Zinnia in a garden in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, September 4, 2005. Picture taken September 4. Reuters/Stelios Varias SV

The NASA has launched a flower garden on the International Space Station (ISS) that is expected to bloom in early 2016. A NASA astronaut is working on a project to grow zinnias on the space station to understand the effect of microgravity to fruiting plants like tomato.

Early in November, astronaut Kjell Lindgren started an experiment to determine if flowering plants can grow in space. The experiment is under the "Veggie" plant-growth system of the NASA, the same technology used to grow red romaine lettuce on the space station earlier in 2015.

NASA said in a statement that growing flowers in orbit will help them learn how the environment in space could affect flower growth, and to see what other kinds of plants could be grown in space. The experiment, if successful, will “enable fruiting plants like tomatoes to be grown and eaten in space using Veggie as the in-orbit garden," said Trent Smith, Veggie programme manager at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Scientists are planning to grow tomato plants on the space station in 2017.  Research about growing plants in space could significantly help astronauts in deep space exploration in the future. This could help provide reliable source of food during a long journey in the solar system.

Scientists simulate sunlight to grow the plants on the ISS using red, blue and green LED lights, a method similar to the vertical farming trend on Earth. Lindgren will monitor the plant growth in the Veggie system over the next 60 days.

"Growing a flowering crop is more challenging than growing a vegetative crop such as lettuce," said Gioia Massa, Kennedy Space Centre payload scientist for Veggie. "Lighting and other environmental parameters are more critical."

NASA researchers are hoping that they could gather good data from the growth cycle of the flowers to understand long-duration seed stow and germination, and if pollen would be a problem in the space station. The ISS flower garden will also test whether having live plants on board will affect crew morale.

Contact the writer at feedback@ibtimes.com.au or tell us what you think below