Do plants in Space grow different than on Earth?

Do plants in Space grow different than on Earth?

Is there any difference in growth of the plants?

Scientists are exploring various parts of space in order to find locations for human life could exist. Water is the foremost requirement of the human body so it is the essential component in determining whether a place is habitable or not. Food is another commodity that holds a lot of importance. Researchers did manage to find signs of water on some heavenly bodies like Mars but they were not sure about the cultivation of food crops. The effects of the spatial atmosphere on plants were not clear but it was assumed that the hostile nature of space’s climate and the difference of gravitational forces might not assist the cultivation process.

The International Space Station is a satellite where experiments are performed in physics, astronomy, biology, and other fields. This station is also used for testing systems of spacecraft traveling to the Mars or the Moon. It orbits in the lower atmosphere of the Earth and the altitude varies from 300 to 450 kilometers. Some seeds of small white flowers, Arabidopsis thaliana, were sent there to observe the behavior of roots in a weightless environment. The initial supposition of scientists was that gravity has an immense influence on the proper growth of the plant. The statement of Anna-Lisa Paul, a plant geneticist, clearly shows that. She said,

The role of gravity in plant growth and development in terrestrial environments is well understood. What is less well understood is how plants respond when you remove gravity.”

However, this experiment proved otherwise as those plants grew normally and the roots spread in search of water and other necessary nutrients.

Anna Paul, who is also the co-author of this study concluded the discussion with the following words.

“The features of plant growth we thought were a result of gravity acting on plant cells and organs do not actually require gravity.”

Skewing of roots was the basic reason which made scientists think that gravity is essential for healthy growth of plants. The images sent from the space station showed that the roots of these plants did slant out in different directions. This made researchers think and they concluded that other factors like moisture and light avoidance take over in absence of the gravity. This revelation really boosted the prospects of cultivating food in space. This would be a great plus to colonize other planets if the traveling humans can manage their food requirements all by themselves and continuous supplies from the Earth are not needed.

The crew members of the International Space Station are planting different vegetables and fruits for years now following the research described above. Continuous efforts are being made to find new methods that will help the astronauts to grow and consume space-grown items. It also adds to the psychological comfort of the astronauts as they don’t have to worry about the stock of available food all the time during their mission. Shane Topham, a representative of Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University, acknowledges that and said,

“Growing food to supplement and minimize the food that must be carried to space will be increasingly important on long-duration missions. We also are learning about the psychological benefits of growing plants in space – something that will become more important as crews travel farther from Earth.”

Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit is the name given to the experiment through which all these latest procedures are being found out. It uses a simple chamber which is pretty much like a greenhouse. The levels of both light and water are controlled by an automated system. There are four major objectives and they are as follows.

·         Make sure that the space-grown crop is safe for human consumption

·         Know about the microorganisms that attack these crops and what precautions can be taken in this regard.

·         The ways of cleaning the produce after it has been harvested.

·         The means of optimizing production compared to the resources required to grow it.

There are several other benefits of growing plants on space missions. One of the most important one among them is that plants consume carbon dioxide and provide necessary oxygen for respiration of the astronomers. This will also keep the humidity level of the cabin in control. Psychological relief will give a boost to their mood which can help with the research projects they are supposed to work on.

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