Flowers on Mars & An Astronaut’s Tweet
Hello, fellow Mars terraformers and outer space botany enthusiasts. I don’t really care if you’ve seen The Martian and I will straight forward throw a spoiler right in the second sentence — remember how Matt Damon grew some potatoes on Mars, by mashing up some poop and creating artificial humidity in a chamber? Admirable. His ways at least. But then and there the potatoes had a little landmark to help them decide which way to grow — gravity.
If you are familiar with Planet Earth and its ways you are probably aware that plants tend to grow oppositely to the force of gravity. But if you plan on a trip to Mars and you want sustainable source for food? How do you grow plants in zero gravity? Well the astronauts from the International Space Station(ISS) have showed an example recently. A member of the space team up there, Scott Kelly, has tweeted that they’ve successfully managed to grow the first flower in space! The flower itself is a zinnia plant. Exciting, right? Let me, for the second time, spoil the fun then — plants have already been grown on the ISS, then why is this little beauty special and why did the Internet blow up recently?
See, if you want to ever try and grow stuff in space you need the right conditions. And by right conditions I mean as little super deadly radiation as possible, access to light, air, humidity… or a chamber or facility especially designed and equipped for the purpose. The sneaky people from NASA do have that. It’s called The Vegetable Production System(or Veggie in short) and according to them it is a “deployable plant growth unit capable of producing salad-type crops”. It was established in April 2014 and it already has a successful project behind its metaphorical back — harvesting lettuce. In fact, the first flower blooming in space(in our Solar system at least) was a rock cress plant and took place at the Salyut 7(1982) and it went through the whole process — from seed to seed.
Kelly tweeted “First ever flower grown in space makes its debut!” and was wrong, but, hey, he was probably way too excited at the time. What zinnia is special with is that it is way more sensitive to environmental factors like sunlight and it also has a longer growth period (60 to 80 days). A successfully grown flower of the such would mean a huge outer space gardening leap(and it did). The astronauts will now be aiming at growing real tomatoes in zero gravity(around 2017). A poor choice of space salad recipe if you ask me (lettuce + tomatoes, ugh).
Plants do have a very important role in space, on the other hand. Aside from providing the space adventurers with something from nature in an artificial environment for they are the logical solution to colonising other planets. Which we plan to do with Mars.
Mankind ought to be proud. And every self-respecting gardener out there should be thrilled of this achievement, because it is now certain that if by any chance a great human space migration takes place, they could always decorate the ship with flower window boxes or whatever. It will be one nice happy trip. To the abyss of space.
Information gathered by Allan’s Gardeners, London