NASA’s experiment is located in the European Columbus module and is the latest in the study of plants growing under microgravity.
Future astronauts will need fresh and regular food source to undertake missions farther away from home like the Moon mission and Mars mission. Plants that grow in space not only provide urgently needed vitamins and minerals, they also contribute to sustainability and add a homey touch to exploration.
Growing plants in the microgravity conditions of the International Space Station has allowed researchers to fine-tune the approach: European research showed plants respond better to red and blue light, giving the Columbus disk a feel.
Because the plants no longer have gravity to root them in the soil, the seeds are grown in “pillows” that help distribute the fertilizer and water evenly to the roots.
Radishes were chosen because they are a model plant and have a short cultivation time and are genetically similar to Arabidopsis, the most frequently studied plant in space. Radishes are also edible and nutritious. This batch is ready for harvest any day now. The samples will be returned to Earth for study.
The Advanced Plant Habitat is a self-contained growth chamber that requires very little intervention from astronauts. It is equipped with LED lights, porous clay, more than 180 sensors and cameras regulated by researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, United States.
Plant growth is monitored from there and conditions are adjusted as necessary to better distribute water and fertiliser and control moisture and temperature levels.
The next ESA astronaut to depart for the Station is Thomas Pesquet for the Alpha mission. Thomas is slated to arrive in the spring of 2021 and possibly the astronaut will get a chance to try another batch of space-grown vegetables.