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 First Published: September 24: 2015
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The Lake Eden Eye Arkive Q-Alpha 2016

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First Flower Bloomed Outside the Earth at ISS

Samantha Cristoforetti on Her 200th Day in Space at ISS: Image: ESA-NASA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is What You Do at ISS If You Receive Fresh Fruit Supply From Earth

March 26, 2016:  ESA astronaut Tim Peake is pleased to have received fresh fruit with the arrival of his new crewmates on the International Space Station. Tim commented on the picture: "Thanks Soyuz 46S crew for the fresh fruit…nothing quite like a juicy apple!"

Tim's six-month mission to the ISS is named Principia, after Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which describes the principal laws of motion and gravity.

He is performing more than 30 scientific experiments for ESA and taking part in numerous others from ESA’s international partners.

ESA and the UK Space Agency have partnered to develop many exciting educational activities around the Principia mission, aimed at sparking the interest of young children in science and space.

More about the Principia

More photos from Tim on his flickr photostream

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Cygnus is to Deliver the Largest Cargo to ISS Full of Exciting New Experiments and New 'Clothes' for the Astronauts

By Steven Siceloff Writing

Image: NASA


March 21, 2016: A new 3D printer and research projects examining everything from adhesive technologies to the behavior of large fires in space are packed inside an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft for launch Tuesday, March 22, at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends for 30 minutes.

Launching atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the Cygnus, which carries no crew, will steer itself to the station during the course of three days. Astronauts and ground controllers will use the station's robotic arm to grapple Cygnus and connect it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module. Cygnus will stay connected to the Earth-facing laboratory for about two months before being released to burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

Much of the science will be conducted by astronauts aboard the International Space Station as they continue landmark research above Earth for the benefit of those on the Earth and future astronauts making the journey to Mars. Other science, such as the fire research and reentry data collection, will be conducted at the end of the mission and only after Cygnus drops off its materials and is flying on its own far from the station.

Named the S.S. Rick Husband in tribute to the astronaut who commanded the STS-107 mission which was lost Feb. 1, 2003, this will be the second flight of an enhanced version of Cygnus which first flew in December on a successful return to the flight for the company. Able to carry about 25 percent more volume than its predecessor, the enhanced models also feature more efficient solar arrays and other upgraded systems.

While docked to the station, Cygnus will be unloaded by astronauts who will set up the experiments and stow the fresh supplies. Altogether, the mission's cargo manifest totals more than 3 ½ tons, including experiments by government and private researchers. Two expeditions – 47 and 48 – will conduct the research in NASA's continuing drive to unlock the secrets of long-duration space exploration.

"It's like Christmas when a supply craft arrives," said Orbital ATK's Dan Tani, a former shuttle and station astronaut who is now senior director of mission cargo and operations. "It's always fun to watch another vehicle approach and then it’s like opening a box of goodies and finding some stuff you've been wanting and some surprises you didn't know about."

This Cygnus will carry more to the station than any of the previous five missions, Tani said.

A few of the scientific highlights:

- Gecko Gripper, testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos' feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn't wear off,

- Strata-1, designed to evaluate how soil on small, airless bodies such as asteroids behaves in microgravity.

- Meteor, an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth's atmosphere. The instrument is being re-flown following its loss on earlier supply missions.

- Saffire, which will set a large fire inside the Cygnus in an unprecedented study to see how large fires behave in space. The research is vital to selecting systems and designing procedures future crews of long-duration missions can use for fighting fires.

- Cygnus is carrying more than two dozen nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science including Earth observations.

The station residents depend on cargo missions from Earth to supply them with daily clothes, food, water and air, along with the equipment they need to work in orbit. For instance, this mission is carrying a spacesuit for the crew and high-pressure cylinders to recharge the station's air supply.

As the Cygnus approaches the end of its time connected to the station, astronauts will pack it with trash, spent experiments and other equipment no longer needed. It will all burn up as the spacecraft blazes through the atmosphere to end the flight with a safe impact in the Pacific Ocean.

( Editor: Steven Siceloff:NASA)
 

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Celebrating International Women's Day in ISS-Style

Image Credit: NASA

March 08, 2016: In this April 8, 2010 photograph, from left STS-131 mission specialists Stephanie Wilson of NASA, Naoko Yamazaki of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger of NASA, and Expedition 23 flight engineer Tracy Caldwell Dyson (top left) work at the robotics workstation on the International Space Station, in support of transfer operations using the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm to move cargo from the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module.

The STS-131 mission's seven-member crew launched aboard space shuttle Discovery on April 5 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, joining the six residents of the space station when the shuttle docked on April 7. The merging of the two crews marked the first time four women were in space at the same time.

(Editor: Sarah Loff:NASA)

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The Izzinnia Out in the Sun Outside ISS

ISS046E008979: 170116:  Close-up view of Zinnia grown as part of Veggie experiment floating in front of the Cupola window. Astronaut Scott Kelly posted this photo on Twitter with the caption, "#SpaceFlower out in the sun for the first time! #YearInSpace"

( Editor: Mark Garcia:NASA)
 

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ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on Her 200th Day in Space

Released 11/06/2015 3:52 pm: Copyright ESA/NASA

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti enjoying the view on her 200th day in space on the International Space Station.
 

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Aspiring Astronaut Applicants Broke NASA's All Old Records for 18,300 Applied to Join the Class of 2017

Astronaut Terry Virts conducts a spacewalk during an orbital sunrise on Feb. 21, 2015. Image: NASA

More than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.”

Applications opened Dec. 14, and closed Thursday, but that is just the beginning of an 18-month process that will end with the selection of 8-14 individuals for the opportunity to become astronaut candidates. NASA expects to announce its selections in mid-2017.

Between now and then, NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board will review the applications, assessing each candidate’s qualifications. The board then will invite the most highly qualified candidates to the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews before the final selection is made and the new astronaut candidates report to Johnson for training.

“We have our work cut out for us with this many applications,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson. “But it’s heartening to know so many people recognize what a great opportunity this is to be part of NASA’s exciting mission. I look forward to meeting the men and women talented enough to rise to the top of what is always a pool of incredible applicants.”

After reporting at Johnson, the astronaut candidates will go through about two years of initial training on spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills and teamwork, Russian language and other requisite skills.

Those who complete the training will be given technical duties within the Astronaut Office at Johnson before being assigned on any of four different spacecraft: the International Space Station, NASA’s Orion spacecraft for deep space exploration, or one of two American-made commercial crew spacecraft currently in development – Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner or the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

The commercial crew spacecraft will carry four astronauts to the space station, expanding the orbiting laboratory’s crew from six to seven and effectively doubling the amount of crew time available to conduct the important research and technology demonstrations that are advancing our knowledge for the journey to Mars, while also returning benefits to Earth.

For more information about NASA astronauts, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/astronauts

For information about other NASA job opportunities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/about/career

Stephanie Schierholz
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1100
stephanie.schierholz@nasa.gov

Brandi Dean
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-5111
brandi.k.dean@nasa.gov

( Editor: Karen Northon:NASA)

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What's For Dinner, ISS? Now, Here is Something, the Non-earthly Residents of ISS Can Look Forward to As High School Culinary Teams Vie to Have Their Dishes Sent to the ISS; Reports Joe Atkinson

Or, Rather, the Question Is: How Do You Cook a Quinoa Curry for Astronauts Living in Space?
 

Reports Joe Atkinson, NASA Langley Research Center

From left: Allison Bolton, Alicia Breuer, Aleta Luther and Baylee Hogge plate their quinoa curry during the HUNCH Culinary Challenge pre-competition tasting at NASA Langley. Teammate Marshay Moore is visible in the background. Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

As a pan of baked penne bubbled and browned in a cafeteria oven and fragrant curls of steam wafted from a pot of quinoa curry on a portable burner nearby, Tonya Ward tried her best to keep calm.

It wasn't working, though.

"I'm a barrel of nerves," she said. "I've been up since three this morning."

Ward, the culinary instructor at the New Horizons Regional Education Center in Newport News, Virginia, was about to watch two teams of her high school culinary students submit their dishes to a hungry tasting panel at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton. Tickle the panelists' taste buds enough and one of the dishes could end up being served to astronauts onboard the International Space Station.

"They worked hard on this, trying to get just the right blend," said Ward.

The tasting at NASA Langley took place Feb. 16 as part of the second High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) culinary challenge.

A total of 21 high school culinary teams from around the country are competing in the HUNCH challenge. Following tastings like the one at Langley, the field will be boiled down to 10 teams that will travel to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where they'll prepare their dishes for a final tasting in the center's Space Food Systems Laboratory. The winning team will have its entrée processed and sent to the space station.

So sure, the pressure was on for Ward's teams. But if the teacher was feeling a bit on edge, Allison Bolton, one of the students on the team making the quinoa curry, seemed cool as a cucumber. She and her teammates had put considerable work into perfecting their recipe — tweaking the spices, adjusting the amount of tomato.

"Trying to balance the right amount of tomato in it was kind of hard, because really, the tomato provided a lot of the substance for the dish," she said. "It was a little too tomato-y at first and we had to work to find the right balance, but I think we found it."

Teams in this year's challenge had to develop a vegetable entrée and the dish had to meet a strict set of nutritional guidelines:

300-500 calories
Total calories from fat under 30 percent, total calories from saturated fat 10 percent or less
300 mg or less of sodium per serving
8 grams of sugar or less per serving
3 grams of fiber or more per serving
Food must process well for flight and for use in microgravity

Even with the strict guidelines, both teams' dishes got largely positive reviews from the judging panel, which included astronaut Charlie Camarda, who traveled to the space station on STS-114 in 2005.

"It's very good — very tasty," Camarda said of the quinoa. "I can definitely feel the kick. It's got a little bit of heat and that's a good thing, especially up on orbit."

He thought the pasta was good, too, but had some concerns about whether it would survive the trip to space.

Astronaut Charlie Camarda offers his thoughts on the quinoa curry. "It's got a little bit of heat and that's a good thing, especially up on orbit," he told the HUNCH culinary team. Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman


"The flavor is fantastic and the texture is fantastic," he said. "I like it. But I wonder how it will turn out with the cheese … can it reconstitute well?"

Also on the panel were Janet Sellars, director of Langley's Office of Education; Junilla Applin, associate director of the Engineering Directorate; Robin Wingate, office manager of the Engineering Directorate; Steve Francisco, general manager of NASA Langley's cafeteria; and Brent Schmidt, a culinary specialist and former restaurant owner.

Francisco gave the quinoa perhaps its most ringing endorsement.

"I already had one of my customers say they want me to put it on the menu," he said.

Following the judging, Bolton, who hopes to one day open a family restaurant with her dad, was still feeling pretty confident about the quinoa curry. The judges' comments were largely positive, but they offered some suggestions for toning down some of the stronger flavors — pureed garlic instead of minced, less ginger paste.

Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman:

Bolton called the experience gratifying and said she was looking forward to further tweaking the recipe. "We're always open to comments," she said, "so I'm excited to get back and make it again."

Her teacher was finally relaxing a little.

"I'm so proud of them," said Ward. "I know the effort that went into this and the passion that they have about this. And I think the icing on the cake today was for them to actually meet an astronaut."

Stacy Hale, HUNCH founder and program manager, was visiting NASA Langley for the tasting. Although the HUNCH program predominantly focuses on hardware, he's happy to see the culinary challenge succeeding.

"We want to provide variety for our [space station] crew members," he said, "and we also feel that it's a fantastic outlet to get students who normally wouldn't be thinking about NASA thinking about NASA and the space station."

Last year, a culinary team from Phoebus High School, which was made up of students from all four Hampton high schools, won the overall HUNCH Culinary Challenge. Feedback they received during a pre-competition tasting panel at NASA Langley helped them fine-tune their rice and beans recipe, which has been made into astronaut food and is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in March.

Tammy Cottee, NASA Langley's HUNCH coordinator, would like to see that trend continue this year.

"I'm hoping to see at least one of these teams make it to the final as well," she said.

Joe Atkinson: NASA Langley Research Center
( Editor: Joe Atkinson: NASA)

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Dr Peggy Whitson Trains For a Spacewalk

Image Credit: Bill Brassard (NBL)

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson trains underwater for a spacewalk at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Whitson is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in late 2016 as part of Expedition 50/51.

Dr. Whitson first traveled to the space station as a crew member of Expedition 5, launching aboard the space shuttle STS-111 mission and returning six months later on STS-113. She was named the first NASA Science Officer during her stay, and she conducted 21 investigations in human life sciences and microgravity sciences as well as commercial payloads. Whitson became the first woman to command the International Space Station in October 2007, leading Expedition 16 during a six-month stay on the orbiting laboratory.

( Editor: Sarah Loff: NASA)

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Seeing How the Atoms Interact at ISS

Visualising atoms: Released 02/02/2016 4:54 pm: Copyright MPE–M. Kretschmer


How atoms interact and behave is common high-school knowledge, but what we know is based on assumptions or snapshots. Electron microscopes have taken images of atoms so we know how they settle, but we have never recorded atoms moving.

The ESA–Roscosmos Plasma Kristall-4 (PK-4) experiment is recreating atomic interactions in a fluid on a larger scale on the International Space Station. The proxy atoms in PK-4 are microparticles, which are suspended and charged in plasma (an ionised gas with electrons and ions). The microparticles interact with each other via the high electrical charges, forming a strongly coupled liquid or solid – a classical model system for condensed matter.

This image shows the typical purple glow of an argon plasma in the PK-4 hardware on Earth. Microparticles are introduced into the plasma to observe how they behave.

On Earth the particles are influenced by gravity but in space the particles will behave similarly to charged atoms in a fluid or crystal structure allowing researchers to understand better the hidden interactions of our world.

PK-4 is installed in the European Physiology Module on the European space laboratory Columbus and runs for up to four days, four times a year.

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The Eden Eye View of the Snow Storm Jonas Over the Atlantic Coast of the United States of America

Snowstorm Jonas struck and the results of the blizzard could be seen the length of the Atlantic coast of the United States from the International Space Station. The line marking the snow-blanketed land and the ocean can be clearly seen in this picture captured by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly just before sunrise. Credits: NASA

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This Lentil Seedling Root Has Been Grown at ISS

Plant Growth in Microgravity at ISS: Released 19/01/2016 4:24 pm
Copyright ESA/Université Blaise Pascal
 

How do plants know which way is up? This might seem like an obvious question, but how exactly does a plant know which way to grow its roots and which way to grow towards the Sun?

Understanding the deeper mechanisms that cause a plant to grow in a particular direction has far-reaching possibilities for agriculture – as well as for astronauts who want to enjoy fresh vegetables on a long space mission.

This image shows a lentil seedling root that grew on the International Space Station before being preserved in resin and cut along its length for analysis.

The purple dots are starch-filled statoliths that usually drop towards gravity, but this plant grew in space and the statoliths are floating in the middle of their cells.

In addition to these cross-sections, almost 2500 pictures charted the 768 seeds growing over 31 hours in microgravity and hypergravity in the European Modular Cultivation System on ESA’s Columbus space laboratory.

“This research could not be done on Earth because gravity would get in the way of our readings,” explains Francois Bizet, who is analysing the images as part of a post-doctoral programme in France’s CNES space agency. Regular updates are posted on the experiment's blog.

The results from the Gravi-2 experiment are showing what could be responsible for sending growth-direction signals to the plant’s cells. Gravi-2 continued an earlier experiment that examined the limits of how plants perceive gravity, with this second experiment looking in particular at how calcium is used by plants to regulate growth.

On Earth, soluble calcium spreads to plant roots and is considered an important part of plant growth because they respond to environmental signals. Gravi-2 will also look at gene expression to highlight how intracellular calcium could be a second messenger for perceiving gravity.

“We need to grow the seeds in different environments to compare results and work out which change is due to gravity,” says Valérie Legué from the Université Blaise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

“Understanding plant growth is the first step to adapting crops for more productive agriculture. If we could grow lentils vertically, for example, farmers could drastically increase crop yield per square metre.”

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Burning Experiments at ISS: Candle, How Do You Flicker? Fabrics, How Do You Burn? In Microgravity's Clasp? You Seek to Know? Than I Shall Show You the Glow

A composite image of candle flames from the Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) investigation on the International Space Station.
Credits: NASA

(Highlights: Week of Dec. 28, 2015) - The crew of the International Space Station kicked off the new year with science investigations in to aging of human skin and how fabrics burn in space, both of which could have a significant impact on life on Earth.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly retrieved the hardware for the Burning and Suppression of Solids-Milliken (BASS-M) investigation scheduled to begin within the next few weeks. Materials burn differently in microgravity than they do on Earth, and understanding these differences is crucial for maintaining safety. This NASA investigation tests 10 specially treated, flame-retardant cotton fabrics to determine how well they resist burning in microgravity.

The important observations from BASS-M experiments include flame shape and appearance as a function of airflow speed around the sample, how fast the flame develops, and flame dynamics -- pulsations and oscillations. Each textile’s ability to self-extinguish is evaluated and compared against normal terrestrial behavior. Results benefit research on flame-retardant textiles that can be used on Earth and in space.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake performed his first round of measurements for the Skin-B investigation. The ESA investigation will improve understanding of skin aging, which is slow on Earth but accelerated in space. It will provide insight into the aging process in other similar bodily tissues and could help scientists identify impacts for astronauts on future long-duration missions beyond low Earth orbit where environmental conditions are more challenging.

Peake measured the hydration level of his skin’s outer layer, the skin barrier function and the skin surface topography. The data will be compared to measurements performed before Peake began his stay on the space station. Data gathered on the station can provide insight into the mechanisms by which all organs covered with epithelial and connective tissue adapt and age over time and under the physical stress imposed by the microgravity environment. Gaining an understanding of how biological tissue can change should allow for better diagnostic and treatment on Earth.

One proven treatment to maintain the health of crew members is regular exercise on the orbiting laboratory. NASA astronaut Tim Kopra completed an ultrasound on different muscle groups for the end of his second week on the space station as part of the Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study (Sprint). This NASA Human Research Program study evaluates the use of high intensity, low volume exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone and cardiovascular function in crew members during long-duration missions.

Ultrasound scans are used to evaluate spaceflight-induced changes in the muscle volume. Upon completion of this study, investigators expect to provide an integrated resistance and aerobic exercise training protocol capable of maintaining muscle, bone and cardiovascular health while reducing total exercise time over the course of a long-duration spaceflight. This will provide valuable information in support of the long-term goal of protecting human fitness for even longer space exploration missions. Data gathered from the investigation also may help scientists develop treatments to aid in muscle, bone and heart health on Earth.

John Love, Lead Increment Scientist
Expeditions 45 & 46
( Editor: Kristine Rainey: NASA)
 

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First Bloom of Flower at ISS

Thanks to the work of the 'autonomous' Space Gardener Scott Kelly: NASA Image

On Jan. 16, 2016, Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly shared photographs of a blooming zinnia flower in the Veggie plant growth system aboard the International Space Station. Kelly wrote, "Yes, there are other life forms in space! #SpaceFlower #YearInSpace"

This flowering crop experiment began on Nov. 16, 2015, when NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren activated the Veggie system and its rooting "pillows" containing zinnia seeds. The challenging process of growing the zinnias provided an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity, and for astronauts to practice doing what they’ll be tasked with on a deep space mission: autonomous gardening.

( Editor: Sarah Loff: NASA)

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Life on the Lake Eden Eye at ISS

How Life is Elaborating at ISS : How Mold on Space Station Flowers is Helping Get Us to Mars



When Scott Kelly tweeted a picture of moldy leaves on the current crop of zinnia flowers aboard the International Space Station, it could have looked like the science was doomed. In fact, science was blooming stronger than ever. What may seem like a failure in systems is actually an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity, and for astronauts to practice doing what they’ll be tasked with on a deep space mission: autonomous gardening.

“While the plants haven’t grown perfectly,” said Dr. Gioia Massa, NASA science team lead for Veggie, “I think we have gained a lot from this, and we are learning both more about plants and fluids and also how better to operate between ground and station. Regardless of final flowering outcome we will have gained a lot.”

From drought to flood: when problems are a learning opportunity

The Veggie plant growth facility was installed on the orbiting laboratory in early May of 2014, and the first crop – ‘Outredgrous’ red romaine lettuce – was activated for growth. The first growth cycle faced some issues.

“We lost two plants due to drought stress in the first grow out and thus were very vigilant with respect to the second crop,” said Trent Smith, Veggie project manager.

The second crop of the same lettuce was activated in early July by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, and thanks to lessons learned from the first run, adjustments to watering and collecting imagery of the plants were made. The leafy greens grew according to schedule, with only one plant pillow not producing. This time the crew was able to eat the lettuce when it was ready to be harvested a month later.

The next crop on the docket was a batch of zinnia flowers, but they weren’t selected for their beauty. They were chosen because they can help scientists understand how plants flower and grow in microgravity.

“The zinnia plant is very different from lettuce, said Trent Smith, Veggie project manager. “It 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.

Just more than two weeks into their growth period, though, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren noted that water was seeping out of some of the wicks – the white flaps that contain the seeds and stick out of the tops of the plant pillows. The water partially engulfed three of the plants. Within 10 days, scientists noted guttation on the leaves of some of the plants. Guttation is when internal pressure builds and forces excess water out of the tips of the leaves. It occurs when a plant is experiencing high humidity. Additionally, the zinnia leaves started to bend down and curl drastically. This condition, called epinasty, can indicate flooding in the roots. The anomalies all pointed to inhibited air flow in the plant growth facility that, when coupled with the excess water, could lead to big problems for the crop.

“After observing the guttation and more significant amounts of free water we decided to see about toggling the Veggie fan from low to high,” said Smith. “We had evidence indicating reduced air flow through the internal Veggie facility volume, and needed to toggle the fan to high to dry things out.”

The fix had to be postponed, though, due to an unplanned spacewalk in mid-December. By that time, tissue in the leaves of some of the plants began to die. On Dec. 22, Smith received a phone call at 3:45 in the morning. Trouble was brewing in the space garden.

“When you have high humidity and wet surfaces,” he said, “leaves start dying, and become prime real estate for mold to grow.”

The mold issue had Smith out of bed and the Veggie team on the phone by 4 a.m. Within four hours, new procedures were written and communicated to NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who took over care of the zinnias after Lindgren returned to Earth on Dec. 18. Kelly donned a dust mask as a safety measure, and cut away the affected, moldy plant tissue, which was then stowed in the minus eighty degree laboratory freezer (MELFI) so it could be returned to Earth and studied. The plant surfaces and plant pillow surfaces were sanitized with cleaning wipes, and the fans continued at a high speed in hopes of keeping the Veggie chamber dried out and mold growth abated.

By Christmas Eve, though, Kelly called down to the ground support team to report new problems with the plants. It seemed the high fan speed was drying out the crop too much, and Kelly said he thought they needed more water. He was told, though, that the next scheduled watering was not until Dec. 27.

“I think that would be too late,” Kelly told the ground team. “You know, I think if we’re going to Mars, and we were growing stuff, we would be responsible for deciding when the stuff needed water. Kind of like in my backyard, I look at it and say ‘Oh, maybe I should water the grass today.’ I think this is how this should be handled.”

News of the mold didn’t dampen Smith’s Christmas spirit, though.

“We’d been planning on figuring out how to garden autonomously and his request was just perfect,” Smith said. “Christmas Eve 2015 was our gift!”

Taking on the role of autonomous gardener

And so, Kelly became an autonomous gardener aboard the space station.

“This is perfect – he has the helm,” Smith said. “We turned over care to Scott. He’s seen the lettuce, he’s got all the tools he needs, so we just provided him quick guidelines to understand the zinnias.”

What the Veggie team created was dubbed “The Zinnia Care Guide for the On-Orbit Gardener,” and gave basic guidelines for care while putting judgment capabilities into the hands of the astronaut who had the plants right in front of him. Rather than pages and pages of detailed procedures that most science operations follow, the care guide was a one-page, streamlined resource to support Kelly as an autonomous gardener. Kelly tweeted a picture of the flowers in distress, noting that he’d have to channel a character from the movie, “The Martian.”

Contrary to seeming like a dead end for the crop, the issues faced by the zinnias offered a multitude of learning opportunities for scientists back on Earth. In fact, Smith said, the experience drives home what science experiments are all about: finding out what doesn’t work, and figuring out how to solve it. For crews on the way to Mars, Smith said, scientists need to know what would happen if crops experienced drought, flooding, mold growth or other challenges. Would the practices of cutting away dead tissue and sanitizing plants work? How does changing the watering schedule affect the growth? How can crew members be given more opportunities to take charge in the gardening process?

“All these things are so rich in information, my head kind of spins to think about what to focus on,” Smith said. “This is perfect. This is really getting us down the road for other crops.”

Smith said the Veggie team had hoped to move toward autonomous gardening, and Kelly’s willingness to jump in and care for the plants independent of the ground support team was key.

Triumph, not trouble

Shortly after Kelly’s heroic holiday gardening efforts, two of the plants that displayed stress died off and were clipped and stowed in the freezer to be returned to Earth for studying. Not all hope was lost, though. The remaining two plants have continued to thrive, and have even had new offshoots of buds forming.

“We see them growing out of their stressed states as seen by the new growth not showing leaf curling,” Smith said. “We see that we can use our fan to adjust the conditions. We don't see guttation or free water. So, lots of things and better understanding of our tools for the on-orbit autonomous gardener.”

On Jan. 8, Kelly tweeted a picture of the plants’ progress.

On Jan. 12, pictures from Kelly showed the first peeks of petals beginning to sprout on a few buds. The bud-to-petal-to-full-flower process can take about 7 to 10 days, Smith said, so flowers could be present by next week.

If the flowers do blossom, chances are it will be an exciting opportunity for the entire crew, and not just Kelly. Previous astronauts who have conducted plant experiments on orbit have noted that it is an experience that brings crew members together. When NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid grew wheat stalks on the Russian Mir space station in 1996, she called the entire crew over to inspect new seed heads on the tips of the stalks. When the first batch of lettuce was harvested in June of 2014 on the ISS, several crew members joined in the event. When the second batch of lettuce was harvested in August, and astronauts were allowed to eat the fruits of their labor, they gathered and shared the produce with international partners on the station.

“Plants can indeed enhance long duration missions in isolated, confined and extreme environments – environments that are artificial and deprived of nature,” said Alexandra Whitmire, deputy element scientist for the Behavioral Health and Performance (BHP) element in the NASA Human Research Program (HRP). “While not all crew members may enjoy taking care of plants, for many, having this option is beneficial.”

Though most evidence of the psychological benefits of growing plants in space is anecdotal, Whitmire said efforts like Veggie will yield important information in preparation for a Mars mission.

“In future missions, the importance of plants will likely increase given the crews' limited connection to Earth,” Whitmire said. “Studies from other isolated and confined environments, such as Antarctic stations, demonstrate the importance of plants in confinement, and how much more salient fresh food becomes psychologically, when there is little stimuli around.”

The implications of plant life for future spaceflight, Whitmire said, is very significant.

More crops for Veggie are heading to the orbiting laboratory aboard SpaceX-8. The Veg-03 run will include two sets of Chinese cabbage, and one set of red romaine lettuce. In 2018, there are plans to launch dwarf tomato seeds to the space station. Smith said the lessons learned from growing zinnia flowers will be critical in the process of growing tomatoes, a fellow flowering plant. Studies are also in progress to see how adjusting the lighting in the Veggie plant growth facility can affect plan mineral composition. There will be preflight testing to determine what “light recipe” to use aboard the station.

For now, scientists continue to closely monitor the zinnia crop and are following Kelly’s lead for care based on his observations. The unexpected turns experienced during this Veggie run have actually offered bountiful opportunities for new learning and better understanding of one of the critical components to future journeys to Mars.

Smith understands, though, that a space garden is like any other garden – sometimes, things just don’t grow. The Veggie team is hopeful that the newly-emerging petals will fully bloom soon.

“I’m an eternal optimist,” Smith said.


Rachel Hobson
International Space Station Program Science Office
Johnson Space Center
(Editor: Kristine Rainey: NASA)

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The 
Earth

 

  The 
Moon

 

The Lake Eden Eye

 

 

 

 

The Window of the Heavens Always Open and Calling: All We Have to Do Is: To Choose to Be Open, Listen and Respond

 

 

 

Imagine a Rose-Boat

Imagine a rose floating like a tiny little boat on this ocean of infinity
And raise your soul-sail on this wee-little boat and go seeking out
All along feed on nothing but the light that you gather only light
Fear shall never fathom you nor greed can tempt nor illusion divert
For Love you are by name by deeds you are love's working-map

 

 

Only in the transparent pool of knowledge, chiselled out by the sharp incision of wisdom, is seen the true face of what truth is: That what  beauty paints, that what music sings, that what love makes into a magic. And it is life: a momentary magnificence, a-bloom like a bubble's miniscule exposition, against the spread of this awe-inspiring composition of the the Universe. Only through the path of seeking, learning, asking and developing, only through the vehicles and vesicles of knowledge, only through listening to the endless springs flowing beneath, outside, around and beyond our reach, of wisdom, we find the infinite ocean of love which is boundless, eternal, and being infinite, it makes us, shapes us and frees us onto the miracle of infinite liberty: without border, limitation or end. There is nothing better, larger or deeper that humanity can ever be than to simply be and do love. The Humanion

 

Poets' Letter Magazine Archive Poetry Pearl

About The Humanion The Humanion Team Home Contact Submission Guidelines
The Humanion Online Daily from the United Kingdom for the World: To Inspire Souls to Seek

At Home in the Universe : One Without Frontier. Editor: Munayem Mayenin

All copyrights @ The Humanion: London: England: United Kingdom: Contact Address: editor at thehumanion dot com

First Published: September 24: 2015