It wasn’t too long ago that astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) were enjoying space-grown lettuce for the first time; a fine dining experience, all things considered. Now, Veggie is being fired up again, but rather than opening up a mini salad bar, this time the plan is to put on a floral display.
Activated on the morning of November 16 by NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, the plant growth system “Veggie” will hopefully be blooming with Zinnias next year. If the experiment goes to plan, it will mark another plant-based first for the satellite: the growth of a flowering crop.
You might be wondering why NASA is using precious ISS resources to grow flowers, but it’s not to add a little color to the drab décor. What scientists learn from this experiment can hopefully be put to use in future projects involving other, more useful flowering plants.
“Growing a flowering crop is more challenging than growing a vegetative crop such as lettuce,” Gioia Massa, NASA scientist for Veggie, said in a statement. “Lighting and other environmental parameters are more critical.”
The plants will be grown for a total of 60 days – twice as long as the "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce was left to grow for. To kick-start growth of the seeds, which were delivered to the ISS back in 2014, a combination of red, green and blue LEDs will be used in cycles that mimic Earth-days. The seeds will also be provided with growth media and nutrient-rich water.
“Growing the Zinnia plants will help advance our knowledge of how plants flower in the Veggie growth system, and will enable fruiting plants like tomatoes to be grown and eaten in space using Veggie as the in-orbit garden,” Veggie program manager Trent Smith said in the statement.
If all goes to plan, astronauts aboard the ISS may be dining on tomatoes within the next two years.