Welcome to a future that sci-fi nerds have only dreamed of, until now. Humans are currently growing plants in space! It’s a lot more exciting than it sounds at first. For one, it’s really difficult to grow anything in space, and two, the whole concept of growing things on the International Space Station is pretty new. Although the ISS was launched way back in 1998, the growth facility, nicknamed “Veggie”, was only installed on board back in 2014.
The first growth experiment was done with romaine lettuce, and it took several months and a couple of tries to get things to finally grow. The conditions on the ISS are not ideal for growing plants. Remember elementary school science class? Plants need sunlight, soil, water, nutrients, oxygen and the right temperature. It’s tough to control those factors when you’re in a giant aluminum can hurtling through space, but the experiment eventually succeeded and the astronauts were able to eat their home-grown space lettuce.
In November of last year, the crew got started on the next experiment in the Veggie facility. This time, they tried something a little more complicated, zinnia flowers. Zinnias are a little more fragile than lettuce, but they’re also edible, so they made another great candidate. The idea here is to eventually be able to grow lots of edible crops on the space station. If it’s possible to get fresh vegetables growing on the ISS, it gives NASA an idea of how sustainable a future colony on Mars could be.
From the beginning, things didn’t look so great for the Zinnias. It took a lot of experimentation and adjustments to the watering schedule and the humidity in the growth facility. But all these months later, Scott Kelly, who’s been in space for nearly 300-straight days, revealed that the flowers were finally beginning to bloom.
If we can grow lettuce and flowers in space, the possibilities are endless. This is a really good sign for the future of space exploration and the possibility of colonizing Mars. The ability to grow their own food means future colonists have one less thing to worry about on the years-long journey to Mars.