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.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) January 16, 2016
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.