Gardening in Outer Space

Gardening in Space pic

Space….the final frontier…going where no gardener has gone before. Yes, Virginia, there are gardens in space. I’ve known for a while that astronauts were doing botanical experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS), but I learned a few things while reading about it recently.

We gardeners can imagine the difficulties of trying to grow crops above the ionosphere. One can hardly tote fifty-pound bags of compost into space! Well, the best solution (no pun intended) is growing hydroponically.

Seems simple enough except there are other concerns we don’t think about on earth – at least, not in our outside gardens. Astronauts have to factor in lighting – as we do when we germinate our seedlings indoors. But they also have to consider carbon dioxide levels and nitrogen supplies. We take our atmosphere for granted, both inside and outside our homes, because it’s limitless. Not so for citizens of the ISS. And that affects the plants they’re trying to grow.

One other thing I never thought about was how gravity affects plant growth. For example, how do roots know how to grow if there’s no gravity “pulling” them downward? Well, I learned that although gravity is important, it’s not mandatory. The main factor that determines how roots grow is light; roots grow away from light. So logical, but I never thought about it.

In an experiment on the ISS, researchers grew a type of cress in zero gravity and compared it to the same variety of cress grown at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The researchers on the ISS took pictures of the cress growth every six hours and made a short video in which you can see the root growth on the ground and in “flight”. Check this out.

Isn’t that cool?

I guess next time we want to complain about our gardening chores, we should at least be thankful we don’t have to worry about gravity. And I’m down with that.


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