NASA's ISS Crew Advances Plant Research in Space
Space Farming

NASA ISS Crew Advances Plant Research in Space

Last week, the International Space Station (ISS) crew conducted numerous scientific experiments, including initiating operations for Plant Habitat-03. This study focuses on understanding whether epigenetic adaptations in a generation of Arabadopsis thaliana plants grown in space can be passed on to subsequent generations.

Epigenetic adaptation involves the addition of extra information to genetic material (DNA) rather than modifying the existing information. The identification of any changes passed onto successive generations could help to discover genetic factors that increase plant adaptability to spaceflight.

Plant Habitat-03 is part of a broader effort aimed at growing plants in space to supply fresh food for crew members and contribute to life support systems on future space missions. The ISS research facilities used for this include the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) and the Vegetable Production System (Veggie). A variety of plants including lettuces, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, kale, tomatoes, radishes, and chile peppers have been successfully cultivated in these facilities.

In a historical moment, astronauts Mark Kelly and Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Kimiya Yui of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Gennady Padalka, and Mikhail Kornienko became the first to consume space-grown vegetables in August 2015.

Another intriguing investigation by NASA, Plant Habitat-04, examined plant-microbe interactions and evaluated the flavor and texture of chile peppers grown in space. The initial crop harvested in October 2021 was consumed by the crew, and peppers from the second harvest were returned to Earth for analysis.

The ISS plant research has yielded numerous papers in scientific journals, with key findings published in the journal Nature. Among the significant discoveries is that seedlings can adapt to microgravity by modifying the expression of certain genes associated with space stressors.

The Advanced Astroculture (ADVASC) experiment also revealed a system capable of protecting plants by eliminating viruses, bacteria, and mold from the plant growth chamber. This system is now being used in the grocery industry to prolong the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables and in wine storage cellars.

The ultimate goal of these experiments is to develop larger growth systems to facilitate plant growth for food on the Moon and Mars. To this end, the Veg-05 investigation is examining the impact of light quality and fertilizer on fruit production, as well as analyzing the safety, nutritional value, and taste of the fruit.

Research on the NASA ISS is not only furthering our understanding of plant growth in space but is also contributing to improvements in terrestrial plant growth for food and other essential uses.

Photo by Norbert Kowalczyk on Unsplash 

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