Zinnia flower blooms on international space station for first time in history, CNN reports.
Photography by Scott Kelly
On January 16, 2016, astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted a photo of one of the zinnia flowers he grew aboard the International Space Station, writing: “First ever flower grown in space makes its debut! #SpaceFlower #zinnia #YearInSpace”.
“To boldly grow where no man has grown before” has been the mission of astronauts aboard the space station for nearly two years, where they have tried to cultivate edible plants in microgravity, writes Lin Taylor for CNN.
Taylor reports that although NASA’s Veggie plant growth facility, which was installed on the orbiting laboratory in early May of 2014, had several setbacks, it seems the team’s efforts are finally blossoming: their first ever zinnia flowers are now blooming in space!
Zinnias are colorful, long-lasting flowers that are also edible. According to Kelly, they were showing signs of stress early on, but he brought the flowers back to life after mold started growing on some of the leaves possibly because of high humidity. He joked on Twitter that he needed to channel his “inner Mark Watney” — referring to the fictional character in the movie called “The Martian” who successfully grew potatoes on Mars.
Growing these plants aeroponically (that is, in an air or mist environment without soil) aboard the space station hasn’t been without challenges. But with each failure, NASA hopes to understand more about watering schedules and adjusting fan speeds in microgravity, and gain knowledge about growing edible plants in these extreme conditions.
“Plants grown aeroponically require far less water and fertilizer, don’t need pesticide, are much less prone to disease, and grow up to three times faster than plants grown in soil”, Taylor quotes a NASA report.
Based on a statement by Alexandra Whitmire from NASA’s Human Research Program, Taylor explains that the Veggie project will also produce crucial information for a future Mars mission. In addition, growing plants in space also offers psychological benefits for astronauts, “particularly in combating feelings of isolation and loneliness.” NASA hopes Veggie will become a regular facility for ISS astronauts to grow fresh food in space.
The first edible space flower blooming in an orbiting laboratory is a huge accomplishment for NASA and in fact for humankind. Kudos to NASA and astronaut Scott Kelly for this achievement.