Zinnia flower has bloomed in the ISS, the farthest inhabited outpost of mankind. Successfully growing flowers in space brings mankind one step closer to growing fresh food while on long space missions.
American astronaut Scott Kelly, who is aboard the ISS since March 2015, happily broke the news on Twitter that he has successfully made the brightly colored Zinnia to blossom. It is not for the first time a flower has blossomed in space. According to NASA grains like wheat, barley, brassicas and peas have been grown in space in the past decades aboard Russian spacecraft Mir and ISS.
However, the blossoming of the Zinnia plant is no mean achievement considering the fact that the plants were afflicted by molds in the humid and moist climate on the spacecraft. The space mold also holds interest for the researchers and, therefore, it has been collected and frozen to be returned to earth later for study.
Back on Earth, NASA will seek to learn more from the flowering experiment named Veggie. It will allow scientists to learn how plants grow in microgravity and will come in handy in the future mission to Mars. Gioia Massa, the project scientist at NASA Kennedy Space Center, was the force behind the Veggie experiment said that fresh food availability will be crucial during long stints in space. Freeze dried food are the mainstay for astronauts though fresh vegetables do show up with supplies. However, they run out quickly.
Massa added that the farther humans go from Earth; greater will be the need to grow fresh plants for food, recycling of the atmosphere and other psychological benefits.
The Veggie experiment started in 2014 when astronauts grew red romaine lettuce in the same system that’s now growing the zinnias. Astronauts used trays of water with seeds in a bag made of calcined clay that helped to increase aeration to aid the plants to grow. Growing plants are illuminated by LED lights and are fertilized automatically.
The first batch of lettuce ended in a failure, but astronauts learned from their mistakes and successfully grew the nest batch of lettuce in the summer of 2015. The freshly harvested lettuce was consumed by the crew in August.
The flowering of Zinnia was trickier because it has longer growth duration, between 60-80 days. But the success has encouraged the astronauts for bigger things, and they are planning to grow tomatoes by 2018.