Our Projects

Darwin and the AstroPlant Project

What is AstroPlant?

Plants provide sustenance, oxygen and a sense of mental wellbeing, all of which can be hard to find in space. Being able to grow plants on space missions is valuable, but it’s also challenging. To make it easier, the European Space Agency needs more data on how different plants behave under different conditions, and AstroPlant is a way the public can help to gather that information.

The AstroPlant project lets anyone who’s interested grow plants in a small, enclosed system, similar to the ones used on the International Space Station. You can remotely change the conditions the plants are growing in, monitor how they’re doing and submit your findings through an app. If they do well, that can help to tell the European Space Agency what plants might thrive on space stations. If the plants die immediately, that’s valuable information as well; it’s easier to grow plants successfully in space if you already know what can go wrong.

Below, you can find our diary entries from our own experience growing an AstroPlant, and some more general articles about growing plants in space. It’s a fascinating topic, and we’re taking a look both at its history and at newer developments.

AstroPlant: plants on the moon

Can plants grow on the moon? This post takes a look at experiments with plant growth in lunar soil, and on the Chang’e 4 lunar lander.

AstroPlant: space medicine

Can we grow medicine in space? This post looks at why bone density is a problem for astronauts, and how specialised lettuce might be able to help.

AstroPlant: space spice

Does food taste different in space? This post takes a look at the chilli peppers growing on the ISS, and at why spicy food is popular with astronauts.

AstroPlant: painting pak choi

In this post, we’re talking about the latest crop on the International Space Station, and about how paintbrushes can help with pollination.

AstroPlant: seeds in space

Let’s take a look at some of the research that’s brought us to this point: the earliest experiments involving plant matter in space.

AstroPlant update, week 4

Alas, our basil has met an unfortunate fate. Its end has things to teach the AstroPlant project, though, just as its life did.

AstroPlant update, week 3

Now that the plant’s been around for a few weeks, it’s easy to forget how remarkable it is that it can survive in its current environment.

AstroPlant update, week 2

After the first week, we concluded that we could probably trust our AstroPlant to survive if we glanced away for a moment.

AstroPlant update, week 1

Our involvement in the AstroPlant project got off to an eventful start, even if it wasn’t necessarily the start we would have wanted.