Although astronauts had grown lettuce and other vegetables in their space garden, this is the first time that flowers – zinnias, in particular, which are edible – have bloomed outside Earth’s gravity.
U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly hailed the achievement on Twitter with a photo of the orange blossom and a post saying “First flower ever grown in space makes its debut.”
The flower-growing experiment began on Nov. 16, when Kjell Lindgren activated the zinnia seeds, a process that proved to be more difficult than expected.
In December, Kelly found that the zinnia plants were not growing as fast as hoped and some of the plants developed a fungus due to the high humidity on board the ISS.
Nevertheless, Kelly managed to rejuvenate the zinnias.
Since mid-2014, the ISS has had a small “vegetable center” to allow small-scale growing of plants for experiments.
The project is aimed at gathering information about plants’ response to microgravity with an eye toward future manned missions to Mars, which will require rationing water to the max.
In an intervew published on the weekend in the NASA blog, Alexandra Whitmire, a researcher with the agency, said that in the future, plants will have great importance as longer space missions are mounted.
In 2012, astronaut Don Pettit managed to grow zucchini, sunflowers and broccoli in plastic bags in a personal experiment.
The plants are grown aeroponically – without the need for soil – in an air or mist environment and the procedure requires much less water and fertilizer, with the plants growing three times faster than on Earth, NASA says. EFEfuturo