Plants in space are plants grown in outer space typically in a weightless but pressurized controlled environment in specific space gardens. In the context of human spaceflight, they can be consumed as food and/or provide a refreshing atmosphere. Plants can metabolize carbon dioxide in the air to produce valuable oxygen, and can help control cabin humidity. Growing plants in space may provide a psychological benefit to human spaceflight crews.
The first challenge in growing plants in space is how to get plants to grow without gravity. 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.
NASA plans to grow plants in space to help feed astronauts, and to provide psychological benefits for long-term space flight.
By the 21st century, about 300–315 thousand species of plant exist on the Earth. In the 2010s there was increased desire for long-term space missions which lead to desire for plants for food productions. An example of this is vegetable production on the International Space Station in Earth orbit.
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. 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.
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. A Skylab experiment studied the effects of gravity and light on rice plants. The SVET-2 Space Greenhouse successfully achieved seed to seed plant growth in 1997 aboard space station Mir. 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. Plants tested in Veggie before going into space included lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, Chinese cabbage and peas. 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. Since 2003 Russian cosmonauts have been eating half of their crop while the other half goes towards further research. In 2012, a sunflower bloomed aboard the ISS under the care of NASA astronaut Donald Pettit. In January 2016, US astronauts announced that a zinnia had blossomed aboard the ISS.
in 2018 the Veggie-3 experiment was tested with plant pillows and root mats. On the of the goals is to grow food for crew consumption. Crops tested at this time include cabbage, lettuce, and mizuna.
Plants grown in space include:
This section needs expansion with: For every experiment add when and where.. You can help by adding to it. (January 2016)
Experiments to do with plants include:
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.
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 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. The results of this experiment found that the plants were able to sense the direction of gravity even at very low levels. 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.
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; the space seedlings exhibited enhanced growth from the shoots and needles, and also had randomized amyloplast distribution compared with the Earth-bound control group.
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