Jan 28, 2016
A Far Out Learning ExperienceBy Tim Hodson

Back in November, I told you that the astronauts on the International Space Station were attempting to grow zinnias in outer space.

Well, spring has sprung on the space station … kind of.

Last week, astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted photos on the Internet of an orange zinnia in bloom in his space garden.

Using the Veggie plant growth system, Kelly has successfully grown zinnia plants in outer space. The Veggie system is a rooting “pillow” that serves as a substrate for the zinnia seeds to grow in.

All gardeners face challenges, but Kelly’s challenges were not your “typical” backyard gardener problems. A few weeks after the zinnia seeds were “activated” in the Veggie system, mold began to grow on the plants due to excess moisture caused by high humidity in the growing system.

Kelly and his fellow astronauts along with experts on the ground were able to come with with a quick fix on how to control the humidity and clean up the mold but they still faced growing challenges.

The Veggie team on the ground created “The Zinnia Care Guide for the On-Orbit Gardener” that provided Kelly with the basics on how to care for the zinnia in a very non-traditional garden. While several of the zinnia plants succumbed to the mold issue, Kelly was able to save the rest of the crop and the first blooms appeared in mid-January.

Despite the mold issue and the loss of several of the plants, NASA’s team says the experiment has been a very successful learning experience.

“While the plants haven’t grown perfectly,” said Dr. Gioia Massa, NASA science team lead for Veggie, “I think we have gained a lot from this, and we are learning both more about plants and fluids and also how better to operate between ground and station. Regardless of final flowering outcome we will have gained a lot.”

— Tim

Tim Hodson

Tim Hodson is the editorial director of GPN and Big Grower. He can be reached at thodson[email protected]

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