For many years, space exploration and the development of new technology has been of major interest to scientists and educators. While learning more about space, and the theoretical colonization of Mars, is fun to think about, real innovators here on Earth are making strides to study more about the way various environmental factors impact the way we grow plants. Learning to grow and sustain plantings beyond Earth is of great importance to the discussion of extended space travel and exploration. Let’s take a peek at the study of plants grown in space.
How Astronauts Grow Plants in Space
Horticulture in space is not a new concept. In fact, early space horticulture experiments date back to the 1970s when rice was planted in the Skylab space station. As technology progressed, so too did the need for further experimentation with astrobotany. Initially starting with fast growing crops like mizuna, plantings maintained in specialized growing chambers have been studied for their viability, as well as for their safety.
Obviously, conditions in space are quite a bit different than those on Earth. Due to this, plant growth on space stations requires the use of special equipment. While chambers were among the first ways that plantings were successfully grown, more modern experiments have implemented the use of closed hydroponic systems. These systems bring nutrient rich water to the plants’ roots, while a balance of temperature and sunlight is maintained via controls.
Do Plants Grow Differently in Space?
In growing plants in space, many scientists are eager to better understand plant growth under adverse conditions. It has been found that primary root growth is driven away from the light source. While crops like radishes and leafy greens have been grown successfully, plants like tomatoes have proven to be more difficult to grow.
Although there is still much to explore in terms of what plants grow in space, new advances allow for astronauts and scientists to continue learning to understand the process of planting, growing, and propagating seeds.