Many individuals enter their gardens at home for some mental therapy. It is conceivable that gardening may provide psychological advantages for astronauts. Space missions are stressful because the astronauts spend a lot of time in close quarters with one another. Apart from that, they are cut off from the outside world in addition to dealing with the physical implications of living in microgravity. General tasks like eating, sleeping, and using the bathroom become a constant problem in the weightless environment. In the meanwhile, prolonged periods of idleness might cause pure boredom. These issues will be much more noticeable for astronauts on lengthy journeys outside of low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station is situated.
Hence, the desire to carry plants into space and gardening will arise from aesthetic and utilitarian considerations when they go into the space station. Fresh flowers and gardens on the International Space Station provide a wonderful ambience and allow the astronauts to take a bit of Earth with them on the missions. They’re beneficial to mental health both on Earth and in space. They’ll also be necessary for astronauts to stay healthy on long-duration journeys.
To suit their dietary demands, astronauts on board the International Space Station frequently receive shipments of a range of pre-filled, frozen meals. Resupply flights replenish supplies, which can take months or even years to reach the station. Nevertheless, filling up on some of the many vitamins won’t be enough to keep astronauts healthy in space. Thus, NASA is examining ways to provide astronauts nourishment in the form of recently harvested, readily digested fruits and vegetables. The challenging issue is how to accomplish it in a confined, dark environment without sunlight or Earth’s gravity. One idea is for astronauts to cultivate their food within the space station. On the station, under LED illumination, vegetation such as mizuna mustard greens is grown and irrigated in pillows, which are distinctive pouches stuffed with seeds and nutrients.
NASA Veggie – Growing Fresh Plants On Space Station
The Vegetable Production System, often known as Veggie, is a unique botanical facility on board the space station where these plants and their pillows are kept. Veggie’s mission is to assist NASA in their research into plant development in microgravity, as well as to offer fresh food to astronauts’ diets and improve their happiness and well-being. Astronaut Steve Swanson started the first crop of lettuce on May 8, 2014, and it grew for 33 days.
The vegetable garden is roughly the size of a carry-on suitcase and accommodates six plants. Further, each plant is grown in a cushion-shaped pot with a clay-based growth medium and fertilizer. The cushions are necessary for maintaining a healthy balance of water, nutrients, and the air around the roots. Michael Hopkins, a NASA Expedition 64 astronaut, has successfully harvested two crops inside the International Space Station, providing his team with a new supply of leafy greens. Chinese cabbage, red Russian kale, mizuna mustard, three distinct varieties of lettuce, and zinnia flowers have all been successfully grown by Veggie.
Because the fluids in space tend to create bubbles, the roots would otherwise be drowned in water or devoured by air. Plants rely on other environmental elements, such as light, to help them develop in the appropriate direction when gravity is absent. A bank of LEDs helps to provide a spectrum of light, which is optimum for the growth of the plants. The crew members harvested and consumed some plants, while the remaining samples were returned to Earth for analysis. So far, no dangerous contamination has been identified, and the food has been safe and pleasurable for the team to eat.
The Advanced Plant Habitat (APH)
The largest growing chamber on board the orbiting laboratory is the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), a recent addition to the International Space Station. The habitat, which is about the size of a mini-fridge, is intended to determine which growing circumstances in space plants prefer and gives specimens a bigger root and shoot area. It employs LED lights and a porous clay substrate with controlled-release fertilizer to provide water, nutrients, and oxygen to the plant roots. However, it is enclosed and mechanized, unlike Veggie, with cameras and more than 180 sensors that are in continual interactive contact with a team at Kennedy.
As a result, it requires less personnel maintenance daily. It has automatically controlled for temperature, atmospheric content, moisture levels, and water distribution. It includes more LED light colours than Veggie, including white, far-red, infrared, and even red, green, and blue lights for imaging at night. The Arabidopsis Gravitational Response Omics (Arabidopsis-GRO) collaboration research, which will be the initial study utilizing APH, has Dr Norman Lewis as its principal investigator. His team’s interest is to examine what happens to plants in space at the gene, protein, and metabolite levels, as well as what modifications happen and why.
NASA is continuing its study into plant growth in space to ensure that future space travellers have access to fresh food as humans race to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Fresh food will not only give astronauts the vital nourishment their bodies need, but it may also improve team morale. When astronauts are alone and far from home, gardening and eating fresh food may help their mental health.
- Featured image: https://go.nasa.gov/3A6TbFM
- Figure 1: https://go.nasa.gov/3bkRrht
- Figure 2: https://go.nasa.gov/3nhmXjg
- Figure 3: https://go.nasa.gov/3ykzuJj
- Figure 4: https://go.nasa.gov/3tPKFqI
- NASA. 2022. NASA Astronaut Paints a Picture of Success Growing Plants in Space. [online] Available at: <https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-astronaut-paints-a-picture-of-success-growing-plants-in-space>
- NASA. 2022. Constant Gardening on the Space Station. [online] Available at: <https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/constant-gardening-on-the-space-station/>
- NASA. 2022. Growing Plants in Space. [online] Available at: <https://www.nasa.gov/content/growing-plants-in-space>