Tag Archives: astronauts

Flowers in space?

Astronauts on the International Space Station have been trying to cultivate edible plants in microgravity for around two years.

After various unsuccessful attempts at growth, you’d think these astronauts would be weary after these failed growth cycles. However, their perseverance has proven to be worthwhile, because they now have their first ever zinnia flowers blooming in space.

Zinnia is a genus of plants of the sunflower tribe within the daisy family. They are cultivated for their vibrant flowers, but they are also edible.

 

Scott Kelly, U.S. astronaut, posted a picture of one of the zinnia flowers on Twitter.

 

According to a recent NASA blog, after mold started growing on some of the leaves because of high humidity, Kelly was able to bring the flowers back to life.

This isn’t the first time plants have sprouted in space, however. The International Space Station team brought their Veggie plant system to life halfway through the year 2014. The team have also grown red romaine lettuce.

The “Outredgeous” lettuce was grown aeroponically — in an air or mist environment without soil. Plants grown in these environments require much less water and fertilizer without a need for pesticide. These plants also are less prone to disease, and grow up to three times faster than plants grown in soil, NASA has stated.

NASA, in a blog post, wrote that this was the “first time a flowering crop experiment will be grown on the orbiting laboratory”.

Some have argued that a sunflower was actually the first flower to grow in space, although NASA has not yet commented.

Don Pettit, astronaut, grew a zucchini, sunflower and broccoli out of zip-lock bags on the International Space Station as a personal science experiment, documented in a NASA blog called “Diary of Space Zucchini”, in 2012.

Alexandra Whitmire from NASA’s Human Research Program said that NASA’s Veggie project could also provide crucial information for various other missions. For example, understanding watering schedules in microgravity, and knowing what to do if there is mold growth or other challenges in these extreme conditions on Mars.

“In future missions, the importance of plants will likely increase, given the crews’ limited connection to Earth,” Whitmire wrote in a NASA blog.

NASA hopes the veggie project will become a regular facility for International Space Station astronauts to grow fresh food in space.

 

Mars One Mission is narrowing down

After the Mars One Project announced that they were accepting applications in 2013, interest was evident. This not-for-profit foundation, now responsible for creating the first mission that will see humans living on another planet, had 202,586 original applicants. Now only 100 hopefuls remain: 50 men and 50 women. They’ll be narrowed down farther, to about 16, before 2024, when the first team of human Martians is scheduled to depart for their  new home.

In upcoming selection rounds, candidates will be set against every imaginable hardship of a permanent Martian settlement. They’ll be trained as if they were really going (as a few will) and eliminated or passed on their teamwork abilities. “Being one of the best individual candidates does not automatically make you the greatest team player, so I look forward to seeing how the candidates progress and work together in the upcoming challenges.” said chief medical officer Dr. Norbert Kraft M.D.

Graphic from Mars One
“They’ll build up the settlement in order to ready the planet for further teams.” Graphic from Mars One.

Human settlement on Mars is possible today with existing technologies, and Mars One’s mission plan includes technologies that are well-tested and easily available from major companies. However, according to the missions website, “redundancy is extremely important because, unlike the crew aboard the International Space Station, the Mars One crew can’t abandon their mission in case of an emergency.” This redundancy will help to eliminate problems faced by either equipment or supplies failures.

Despite careful planning and minimal risk, there’s still the possibility of danger for the selected Martians. Why are we sending people, then, to do what robots like Spirit and Opportunity already are? Simply put, humans are just better. Unfortunately, rovers are still very limited to the distance they can cover in a day and the obstacles such as rocks and gullies they must overcome. Something that a human could step over remains insurmountable to the rovers.

Besides, each of the selected candidates will have a one-way ticket to Mars. During one of the last great adventures for humanity, they’ll build up the settlement in order to ready the planet for further teams. Eventually Mars One will work towards possible widespread human population. This real-life science fiction story will be an amazing opportunity and experience not only for the individuals participating, but for all of mankind.

The ride to the planet alone should take at least a year. Once the original team has made themselves at home, the next  will be on their way and ready to begin helping with expansion, so if this excites you, why not apply?