Breakdown: Why NASA is growing plants in space

Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 12:21 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Plants need several things to grow-- water, sunlight, air and nutrients. These things are abundant on Earth, but do not exist in space. Therefore, NASA had a tough task to grow plants on the International Space Station.

According to NASA, they wanted to have plants on the ship for food AND aesthetics. The flowers and small crops would provide color to an otherwise plain space.

If astronauts are expected to take long trips to space, they will need a way to grow fresh food. Although they have prepackaged meals, the nutrients in those break down over time. This will be especially problematic for astronauts traveling for months or years to other planets.

The Vegetable Production System, which is nicknamed Veggie, includes six plants that sit in a pillow of fertilizer and soil. Since there is a lack of gravity on the ISS, light is used to “ground” the plant. The crew takes care of Veggie and it has already produced several plants, including cabbage and lettuce.

There is also the Advanced Plant Habitat, which is an enclosed growth chamber that does not require any assistance from astronauts. This has successfully grown wheat.

Researchers continue to study plants grown on the ISS for nutrients and to make sure they don’t grow any harmful bacteria. They have found that some plants have a different immune response in space and have a difficulty fighting off infections.

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