On the ISS, the concept of growing plants in microgravity environments has not been ignored, with astronauts using a specially designed lab in order to grow red romaine lettuce. Unfortunately, the first crop was deemed a somewhat failure. But a second experiment was conducted using zinnia flowers, and, as of Saturday, Space Station Commander Scott Kelly has announced that the first space-grown flower has bloomed.
Pictures of the bloomed flower were posted on Kelly’s Twitter account, showing the general public how a flower completely grown in a microgravity environment looks like. The zinnia flower was planted in the same lab, called Veggie, in which the lettuce crop was planted back in May last year.
Following the red lettuce failure, astronauts considered growing a more delicate plant that relies on its environment at a higher degree, in comparison to red lettuce. Even if the previous crop failed in producing normal quality lettuce, the astronauts, as well as scientists back home on Earth, still viewed the experiment as a success, giving them more information in regards to how plants grow in space.
Because the zinnia flower has an extreme sensibility to environmental factors and sunlight levels, the plant requires a longer period to grow than back on Earth,ranging from 60 to 80 days. But due to the fact that the small flower actually grew, allowing astronauts to harvest it in a 0 G environment, the Veggie growth system and orbiting garden was deemed completely viable and efficient.
By using the aforementioned system, astronauts are now considering to grow other plants over the course of 2016, in order to see how tomatoes or other fruit-bearing plants fare in microgravity environments. Because gravity is low on the ISS, water and nutrient absorption takes extended periods of time, due to the fact that they have trouble reaching the plants’ roots. Just like us, plants have evolved in direct link with Earth’s gravity levels, making any alteration impact them in various ways.
Besides providing them with the option of growing their own fruits and vegetables, without requiring the ISS crew to rely heavily on supplies from back home, space station-grown plants directly benefit the crews’ mood and general psychology. Due to prolonged isolation and confinement, the benefits gained from growing a plant by one’s self are somewhat large to say the least, given the fact that even back on Earth, one can become joyful when seeing how, because of their actions, a seed has turned into a fruit-bearing plant or a flower.
Bearing in mind the fact that the first space-grown flower has bloomed, odds that more crops will become viable on board the ISS in the near future are fairly high. Scientists and researchers will continue monitoring the zinnia crop, as well as following Kelly’s observations and care.