Plants in space are plants grown in outer space typically in a weightless but pressurized controlled environment in specific space gardens.[1] In the context of human spaceflight, they can be consumed as food and/or provide a refreshing atmosphere.[2] Plants can metabolize carbon dioxide in the air to produce valuable oxygen, and can help control cabin humidity.[3] Growing plants in space may provide a psychological benefit to human spaceflight crews.[3]

The first challenge in growing plants in space is how to get plants to grow without gravity.[4] This runs into difficulties regarding the effects of gravity on root development, providing appropriate types of lighting, and other challenges. In particular, the nutrient supply to root as well as the nutrient biogeochemical cycles, and the microbiological interactions in soil-based substrates are particularly complex, but have been shown to make possible space farming in hypo- and micro-gravity.[5][6]

NASA plans to grow plants in space to help feed astronauts, and to provide psychological benefits for long-term space flight.[7]


Vegetable Production System for ISS being discussed

By the 21st century, about 300–315 thousand species of plant exist on the Earth.[8] In the 2010s there was increased desire for long-term space missions which lead to desire for plants for food productions.[9] An example of this is vegetable production on the International Space Station in Earth orbit.[10]


The first organisms in space were "specially developed strains of seeds" launched to 134 km (83 mi) on 9 July 1946 on a U.S. launched V-2 rocket. These samples were not recovered. The first seeds launched into space and successfully recovered were maize seeds launched on 30 July 1946. Soon followed rye and cotton. These early suborbital biological experiments were handled by Harvard University, NASA's top scientist at the time (Matthew Amoroso), and the Naval Research Laboratory and were concerned with radiation exposure on living tissue.[11] In 1971, 500 tree seeds (Loblolly pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas fir) were flown around the Moon on Apollo 14. These Moon trees were planted and grown with controls back on Earth where no changes were detected.


The arugla-like lettuce Mizuna growin for Veg-03

In 1982, the crew of the Soviet Salyut 7 space station conducted an experiment, prepared by Lithuanian scientists (A. J. Merkys, PhD and others), and grew some Arabidopsis using Fiton-3 experimental micro-greenhouse apparatus, thus becoming the first plants to flower and produce seeds in space.[12][13] A Skylab experiment studied the effects of gravity and light on rice plants.[14][15] The SVET-2 Space Greenhouse successfully achieved seed to seed plant growth in 1997 aboard space station Mir.[3] Bion 5 carried Daucus carota and Bion 7 carried maize (aka corn).

Plant research continued on the International Space Station. Biomass Production System was used on the ISS Expedition 4. The Vegetable Production System (Veggie) system was later used aboard ISS.[16] Plants tested in Veggie before going into space included lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, Chinese cabbage and peas.[17] Red Romaine lettuce was grown in space on Expedition 40 which were harvested when mature, frozen and tested back on Earth. Expedition 44 members became the first American astronauts to eat plants grown in space on 10 August 2015, when their crop of Red Romaine was harvested.[18] Since 2003 Russian cosmonauts have been eating half of their crop while the other half goes towards further research.[19] In 2012, a sunflower bloomed aboard the ISS under the care of NASA astronaut Donald Pettit.[20] In January 2016, US astronauts announced that a zinnia had blossomed aboard the ISS.[21]

in 2018 the Veggie-3 experiment was tested with plant pillows and root mats.[22] On the of the goals is to grow food for crew consumption.[23] Crops tested at this time include cabbage, lettuce, and mizuna.[24]

Plants grown in space

Lettuce grown in space aboard ISS

Plants grown in space include:


Illustration of plants growing in a Mars base.

Experiments to do with plants include:

Results of experiments

A young sunflower plant aboard the ISS[38]

Several experiments have been focused on how plant growth and distribution compares in micro-gravity, space conditions versus Earth conditions. This enables scientists to explore whether certain plant growth patterns are innate or environmentally driven. For instance, Allan H. Brown tested seedling movements aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1983. Sunflower seedling movements were recorded while in orbit. They observed that the seedlings still experienced rotational growth and circumnation despite lack of gravity, showing these behaviors are built-in.[39]

Other experiments have found that plants have the ability exhibit gravitropism, even in low-gravity conditions. For instance, the ESA's European Modular Cultivation System[40] enables experimentation with plant growth; acting as a miniature greenhouse, scientists aboard the International Space Station can investigate how plants react in variable-gravity conditions.The Gravi-1 experiment (2008) utilized the EMCS to study lentil seedling growth and amyloplast movement on the calcium-dependent pathways.[41] The results of this experiment found that the plants were able to sense the direction of gravity even at very low levels.[42] A later experiment with the EMCS placed 768 lentil seedlings in a centrifuge to stimulate various gravitational changes; this experiment, Gravi-2 (2014), displayed that plants change calcium signalling towards root growth while being grown in a several gravity levels.[43]

Many experiments have a more generalized approach in observing overall plant growth patterns as opposed to one specific growth behavior. One such experiment from the Canadian Space Agency, for example, found that white spruce seedlings grew differently in the anti-gravity space environment compared with Earth-bound seedlings;[44] the space seedlings exhibited enhanced growth from the shoots and needles, and also had randomized amyloplast distribution compared with the Earth-bound control group.[45]

See also

Interior view of an O'Neill cylinder space habitat, showing alternating land and window stripes.


  1. ^ a b NASA - Growing Plants and Vegetables in a Space Garden
  2. ^ NASA - Plants in Space
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h T.Ivanova, et al. - First Successful Space Seed-to-Seed Plant Growth Experiment in the SVET-2 Space Greenhouse in 1997
  4. ^ a b NASA - Getting to The Root of Plant Growth Aboard The Space Station
  5. ^ Maggi F. and C. Pallud, (2010), Martian base agriculture: The effect of low gravity on water flow, nutrient cycles, and microbial biomass dynamic, Advances in Space Research 46, 1257-1265, doi:10.1016/j.asr.2010.07.012
  6. ^ Maggi F. and C. Pallud, (2010), Space agriculture in micro- and hypo-gravity: A comparative study of soil hydraulics and biogeochemistry in a cropping unit on Earth, Mars, the Moon and the space station, Planet. Space Sci. 58, 1996–2007, doi:10.1016/j.pss.2010.09.025.
  7. ^ Rainey, Kristine. "Crew Members Sample Leafy Greens Grown on Space Station". NASA. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  8. ^ "Numbers of threatened species by major groups of organisms (1996–2010)" (PDF). International Union for Conservation of Nature. 11 March 2010. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ [https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/veggie
  11. ^ Beischer, DE; Fregly, AR (1962). "Animals and man in space. A chronology and annotated bibliography through the year 1960". US Naval School of Aviation Medicine. ONR TR ACR-64 (AD0272581). Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  12. ^ "First species of plant to flower in space". Retrieved 20 January 2016. 
  13. ^ "No NASA, These Are Not The First Plants To Flower In Space". Retrieved 20 January 2016. 
  14. ^ a b c Plant Growth/Plant Phototropism - Skylab Student Experiment ED-61/62
  15. ^ NASA SP-401 - Chapter 5
  16. ^ NASA - VEGGIE
  17. ^ NASA - Station Investigation to Test Fresh Food Experience
  18. ^ Why Salad in Space Matters, Jeffrey Kluger, Time, 10 August 2015
  19. ^ Bauman, Joe (16 June 2003). "USU EXPERIMENT FEEDS ASTRONAUTS' MINDS, TASTE BUDS". Deseret News, Space Dynamics Laboratory. 
  20. ^ "June 17–26 – Diary of a Space Zucchini". Retrieved 20 January 2016. 
  21. ^ Behold the first flower to bloom in space, a cheerful zinnia, Cnet, 18 January 2016
  22. ^ "NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 6 February 2018 - Celebrating 10 Years of ESA's Columbus Module - SpaceRef". spaceref.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  23. ^ "NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 6 February 2018 - Celebrating 10 Years of ESA's Columbus Module - SpaceRef". spaceref.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  24. ^ "NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 6 February 2018 - Celebrating 10 Years of ESA's Columbus Module - SpaceRef". spaceref.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  25. ^ a b c d e R. Zimmerman - Growing Pains (2003) - Air & Space/Smithsonian
  26. ^ Griffin, Amanda (17 February 2017). "Cabbage Patch: Fifth Crop Harvested Aboard Space Station". NASA. Retrieved 28 March 2017. 
  27. ^ A Plant Growth Chamber 01.30.08
  28. ^ "NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 6 February 2018 - Celebrating 10 Years of ESA's Columbus Module - SpaceRef". spaceref.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  29. ^ Dean, James (29 December 2015). "ISS space flowers may need some help from 'Martian'". Florida Today. Retrieved 19 April 2017. 
  30. ^ Smith, Steve (10 August 2015). "'Outredgeous' Red Romaine Lettuce, Grown Aboard The International Space Station, To Be Taste-Tested By Astronauts". Medical Daily. Pulse. Retrieved 19 April 2017. 
  31. ^ SS038-E-000734 (13 Nov. 2013)
  32. ^ Gene expression changes induced by space flight in single-cells of the fern Ceratopteris richardii.
  33. ^ "NASA - Station Investigation to Test Fresh Food Experience". www.nasa.gov. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  34. ^ Glow-in-the-Dark Plants on the ISS
  35. ^ Encyclopedia Astronautica Salyut 7
  36. ^ Plant Signaling (STS-135) Archived 16 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ Shimazu T, Aizawa S (1999). "STS-95 Space Experiments (plants and cell biology)". Biol Sci Space. 13: 25–32. doi:10.2187/bss.13.25. PMID 11542477. 
  38. ^ SS038-E-000734 (13 Nov. 2013)
  39. ^ Chamovitz, Daniel (2012). What a plant knows : a field guide to the senses (1st ed.). New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-28873-0. 
  40. ^ Jost, Ann-Iren Kittang; Hoson, Takayuki; Iversen, Tor-Henning (20 January 2015). "The Utilization of Plant Facilities on the International Space Station—The Composition, Growth, and Development of Plant Cell Walls under Microgravity Conditions". Plants. 4 (1): 44–62. doi:10.3390/plants4010044. ISSN 2223-7747. PMC 4844336Freely accessible. PMID 27135317. 
  41. ^ Driss-Ecole, Dominique; Legué, Valérie; Carnero-Diaz, Eugénie; Perbal, Gérald (1 September 2008). "Gravisensitivity and automorphogenesis of lentil seedling roots grown on board the International Space Station". Physiologia Plantarum. 134 (1): 191–201. doi:10.1111/j.1399-3054.2008.01121.x. ISSN 1399-3054. PMID 18429941. 
  42. ^ "Scientific objectives". Plants in space: GRAVI-2 experiment. 28 March 2014. 
  43. ^ "A decade of plant biology in space". European Space Agency. 
  44. ^ "NASA - Advanced Plant Experiment - Canadian Space Agency 2". www.nasa.gov. 
  45. ^ Rioux, Danny; Lagacé, Marie; Cohen, Luchino Y.; Beaulieu, Jean (1 January 2015). "Variation in stem morphology and movement of amyloplasts in white spruce grown in the weightless environment of the International Space Station". Life Sciences in Space Research. 4: 67–78. Bibcode:2015LSSR....4...67R. doi:10.1016/j.lssr.2015.01.004. 

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