Major Tim Peake has demonstrated his green fingers, coaxing a wilting zinnia flower into bloom on board the International Space Station
Britain is known as a nation of gardeners, so it seems appropriate that the first flower in space was coaxed into bloom by Tim Peake.
The UK’s first official astronaut has been looking after zinnia seedlings planted by Nasa’s Scott Kelly as part a project known as ‘the VEG-01 investigation’ which aims to see what crops can be grown in micro-gravity.
In December, Commander Kelly tweeted a photograph of the plants looking bedraggled, with curled, mouldy leaves. But a few weeks in Major Peake’s care seems to have helped them to perk up.
Kelly Tweeted a picture of the orange zinnia plant after it burst into flower over the weekend. The zinnia are being grown in the ‘Veggie’ facility alongside a number of other plant species that can be cultivated for educational outreach, fresh food and even recreation for crew members on long-duration missions.
So far, the plants grown in the horticultural lab have appeared earlier and scientists expect buds to form on the larger plants soon. The facility has also grown lettuce which was consumed by the crew earlier this year.
The plants are grown on special pillows, and Major Peake has been varying the amounts of water to see how it affected growth. Whatever he has changed, it appears to have done the trick.
The crew are hoping to try tomato plants next.
“The zinnia plant is very different from lettuce,” Trent Smith, project manager of the ISS’s “Veggie” plant growth facility, told the Nasa blog.
“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.”
Nasa is also hoping to show that flowering plants and gardening can have a positive impact on the mental health of the crew.
“Plants can indeed enhance long-duration missions in isolated, confined and extreme environments – environments that are artificial and deprived of nature,” Alexandra Whitmire, of the NASA Human Research Programme, said.
“While not all crew members may enjoy taking care of plants, for many, having this option is beneficial.
“In future missions, the importance of plants will likely increase given the crews’ limited connection to Earth.
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.”
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