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Growing Plants in Space

Scientists are learning things about growing in space that reap benefits for indoor growers on earth. Scientists are learning things about growing in space that reap benefits for indoor growers on earth.


So you think your indoor growing environment is pretty revolutionary? It may very well be here on Earth, but the folks at NASA, teamed with Russian scientists, are conducting growth experiments in space.

Since 2002 there have been continuous growth experiments conducted in the International Space Station. The increased knowledge gained by these experiments is bringing us that much closer to becoming true space agriculturalists.

And along the way, the indoor gardening community gets to reap the benefits from these trials. In fact, it was NASA who was responsible for the experimentation that led to the introduction of LED grow lights to the hobbyist grower.

One of the most revolutionary discoveries made by the collaborative efforts of the scientists is that plant growth does not require gravity.

Space gardeners in the International Space Station are growing vegetables with the hope of eventually making space travel more self-sufficient.

Besides the obvious advantage of having access to fresh veggies in space, there are a few other advantages to space agriculture. Every ounce of weight makes a huge difference in space travel. One future advantage of space farming would be the reduction of the prepackaged food needed for the mission.

One particular experiment (known as Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit—Plants, Protocols, Procedures and Requirements) is performed in specialized chambers that simulate the conditions of a greenhouse.

The objectives of such experiments are to find out if produce grown in space can be consumed safely, to identify the microorganisms that might grow on the plants and how to safely deal with those microorganisms, how the produce can be cleaned and sanitized after being harvested, and how to optimize the production in relationship to the resources required for growth.

One of the most revolutionary discoveries made by the collaborative efforts of the scientists is that plant growth (more specifically root growth) does not require gravity. The movement roots make around rocks and/or other various obstacles in the soil was always thought to be reliant on gravity.

Scientists discovered that in the absence of gravity, but in the presence of directional light, the roots of plants grown in space remained strongly negative phototropic and grew in the opposite direction of the shoot growth. This discovery could lead to new, innovative ways an indoor horticulturist could deliver nutrients to plant roots and stimulate their growth.

Plants grown during spaceflight did seem to be somewhat negatively impacted. All the plants grown in spaceflight were uniformly smaller than comparably aged control plants on the ground.

As scientists conduct more of these experiments, and our ability to cultivate in space increases, we will be able to expand the exploration of space. Growing all, or at least a portion of their food, becomes the most practical solution for astronauts aboard longer duration space flights.

Highly efficient lighting systems teamed with ultra-efficient hydroponic growing systems will lead the way to self-sustainability in space. It is this self-sustainability that will allow us to further explore space and eventually colonize other planets.

Also, as NASA and other organizations develop new high tech growing systems, the indoor horticulturalists on earth will eventually reap the benefits.

So keep your eyes to the sky. Who knows what new technology developed for space will end up in your garden.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 08 May 2013 19:49

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