What Matt Damon did in The Martian has been achieved on International Space Station, well not exactly. Matt grew potatoes, but according to astronaut Scott Kelly’s two tweets; an orange zinnia has been grown successfully on the ISS.
The tweets read, “Yes, there are other life forms in space!” and “First ever glower grown in space makes its debut!” For the scientific community, this is quite a big deal and marks the first step towards becoming capable of growing other fruits and vegetables.
Gioia Massa, NASA Kennedy Space Center and a payload scientist for Veggie in May, 2014 says, “The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits. I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario.”
This is not the first time that a plant has been grown successfully on the ISS. Lettuce has been grown and eaten in the station before this, however, the orange zinnia is such a big deal because growing it was a far more complex task as compared to the lettuce. Variables such as sunlight become quite sensitive in such scenarios. Massa adds, “Growing a flowering crop is more challenging than growing a vegetative crop such as lettuce. Lighting and other environmental parameters are more critical.”
Using this achievement as the foundation, a lot of hope and confidence is being founded in claims of being able of growing other plants that bear fruits and vegetables. Plants are grown on ISS using a system known as Veggie. It helps with plant growth by providing blue, green and red lights to the plant in a systematic manner.
Trent Smith, a program manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida said last year, “Growing zinnia plants will help advance our knowledge of how plants flower in the Veggie growth system, and will enable fruiting plants like tomatoes to be grown and eaten in space using Veggie as the in-orbit garden.”