Boldly Growing Where No Flower Has Grown Before
It seemed like spring aboard the International Space Station this weekend when NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly shared a photo of a cheerful orange zinnia, the first flower grown in space.
Our plants aren't looking too good. Would be a problem on Mars. I'm going to have to channel my inner Mark Watney. pic.twitter.com/m30bwCKA3w— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) December 27, 2015
This isn't the first gardening success to occur on the ISS and the space station's Veggie Plant Growth System. Back in August, the astronauts grew and sampled the first vegetables grown in space -- "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce, to be exact -- cultivated in an effort to figure out how we could one day grow vegetables and deal with challenges such as drought, flooding and mold on Mars.
The zinnia was selected as the next project for the Veggie system so the scientists could get an understanding of how microgravity affects plants as they flower and grow. The flowers became Kelly's responsibility after astronaut Kjell Lindgren returned home.
In a release from NASA, Veggie project manager Trent Smith explained the flower is "more sensitive to environmental parameters and light characteristics. It has a longer growth duration between 60 and 80 days. Thus, it is a more difficult plant to grow, and allowing it to flower, along with the longer growth duration, makes it a good precursor to a tomato plant."
Early on, the flowers seemed like they were in trouble, with issues of humidity and mold growth plaguing the plant's progress. Around Christmas, Kelly started tending to the plants as he saw fit, with guidelines from ground crew, and things started to turn around. Thanks to what they've learned from the thriving flowers, the ISS astronauts could soon be enjoying home-grown tomatoes.
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.