Zinnias from space
by Staff Writers
Houston TX (SPX) Jan 20, 2016
One of the most triumphant moments in the book and recent movie The Martian comes when lead character, Mark Watney, successfully grows a potato crop on Mars. It's more than food for survival; he's also nourishing his spirit. In space, there is no scent of baking bread, no wind on your face, no sound of raindrops hitting the roof, no favorite kitten to curl up in your lap.
Over time, being deprived of these common earthbound sense stimulations takes a toll. Having limited access to stimuli to the senses is identified as a significant risk by NASA's Behavioral Health and Performance team.
The behavioral health community has touted that gardening provides recreation and relaxation. "Monotony of stimulation... can be a serious source of stress," Dr. Jack Stuster wrote in his book Bold Endeavors: Lessons from Polar and Space Exploration. NASA's Human Research Program is interested in how caring for plants and flowers will help improve feelings of isolation, loneliness and stress that can be a part of a long-duration mission in space.
Plants to the rescue!
The countermeasure to sensory monotony is sensory stimulation. Working with plants provides astronauts visual, tactile and olfactory stimulation, and eventually even salivary stimulation with fresh foods and variety.
"It was surprising to me how great soybean plants looked," NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson wrote in one of her Letters Home while she was aboard the space station. "I guess seeing something green for the first time in a month and a half had a real effect. I think it's interesting that my reaction was as dramatic as it was."
Another space gardener, NASA astronaut Don Pettit, conducted his own personal experiments with growing plants in space during Expedition 30/31
"I grew three plants on my last mission," Pettit said. "Space zucchini, and then he had his buddy space broccoli. And then there was space sunflower."
To enhance his fun, he even wrote a blog from the point of view of space zucchini.
Experiments involving space plants have been a favorite of astronauts, especially those staying in space for long periods of time. VEGGIE is the biggest plant/flower experiment to fly on the orbiting laboratory. Furthermore, the behavioral health team cites that another important countermeasure to sensory deprivation is the importance of being involved in meaningful work.
Several astronauts agree that the ability to watch plants grow, and to play a part in their growth, provides a strong connection to something bigger than their immediate surroundings. Astronaut Mike Foale of ISS Expedition 8 said he loved working with plants while on the station. Every morning he would get up and look at the plants "for about 10 to 15 minutes. It was a moment of quiet time."
The space zinnias gave Kelly a little scare as the year came to an end. He tweeted on Dec. 27 that they "aren't looking too good," and he is going to have to channel his "inner Mark Watney." It turned out traces of mold were found on the plants. By Jan. 8 he tweeted again saying they are on the rebound and "no longer looking sad." They are expected to bloom any day.
"Growing a flowering crop is more challenging than growing a vegetative crop such as lettuce," said Gioia Massa, NASA Kennedy Space Center payload scientist for VEGGIE. "Lighting and other environmental parameters are more critical."
Lessons learned from the zinnia study will be used to help with the next flowering plant experiment in 2017, this one with an edible outcome--tomatoes!
Johnson Space Center
Space Tourism, Space Transport and Space Exploration News
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.