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
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
More photos from Tim on his
Cygnus is to Deliver the Largest
Cargo to ISS Full of Exciting New Experiments and New
'Clothes' for the Astronauts
By Steven Siceloff Writing
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
"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
- 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
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
( Editor: Steven Siceloff:NASA)
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)
The Izzinnia Out in the Sun Outside
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
( Editor: Mark
ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti
on Her 200th Day in Space
Released 11/06/2015 3:52
pm: Copyright ESA/NASA
Samantha Cristoforetti enjoying the view
on her 200th day in space on the International Space
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
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:
For information about other NASA job opportunities,
Johnson Space Center, Houston
( Editor: Karen Northon:NASA)
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
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
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:
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
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
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
Francisco gave the quinoa perhaps its most ringing
"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.
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
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)
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
( Editor: Sarah Loff: NASA)
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
(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
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
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)
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)
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
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
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
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
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
“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,
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
“I’m an eternal optimist,” Smith said.
International Space Station Program Science Office
Johnson Space Center
(Editor: Kristine Rainey: NASA)
Aerogramme from ISS: Suddenly the Word is the Sun and It
Lights up Everything Everywhere!
Solar Panel Lit by the Sun: Released
04/01/2016 9:53 am: Copyright ESA/NASA
Sunrise strikes the solar panels that
power the International Space Station, caught by ESA
astronaut Tim Peake on 31 December 2015.
God Save the Queen! Tim Peake, first is
the person to wish this to the Queen from space: Image: ESA
Time Peake has sent a message to Queen
Elizabeth the 2nd, of the United Kingdom and said this for
the first time from Space: God Save the Queen!
Peake's God Save the Queen Message Here
You may follow Tim Peake's Progress and
Stay at the ISS Follow Tim and his time in space via
Posted: January 5, 2016
Oh Jubilant Lights!
Aurora Seen from ISS
Space Aurora: Released 09/09/2014 2:22 pm:
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst took this
image of an aurora as he circled Earth on the International
Aurora occur when electrons from the Sun hit Earth's
atmosphere. Auroras occur frequently over both the North and
South polar regions, but are often difficult to see from
Alexander is a member of the International Space Station
Expedition 40/41 crew. He is spending five and a half months
living and working on the Station for his Blue Dot mission.
Connect with Alexander Gerst on social media via: