It’s been a few weeks since our last update, but we’re still working enthusiastically on the AstroPlant project. We’re currently looking at ways we can expand the project, although we can’t share too many details yet.
In the meantime, let’s talk about the latest crop on the International Space Station! NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins led this project during his latest stint on the space station; he returned to Earth just a couple of weeks ago, on 2 May 2021.
The ISS crew harvested the last of their Amara mustard and Extra Dwarf pak choi on 13 April, after 64 days of growth. The plants were grown in the Veggie system, which we’ve talked about before in our article on the history of plants in space.
Hopkins shared some photographs of the pak choi on his Twitter. You can see in these pictures that the pak choi is flowering. Hopkins helped to pollinate these flowers using a paintbrush.
Matt Romeyn, the project’s science lead, commented that there was a high seed production rate after the manual pollination, which is promising. Fruit won’t grow without pollination, so it’s important to look into the best ways to pollinate plants in space for the sake of future crops.
The crew enjoyed the pak choi and mustard with their meals over the course of the experiment. In his experiment notes, Hopkins described the mustard as ‘delicious’.
For a fuller writeup, you can take a look at NASA’s article on this Veggie project. It includes a quote from Romeyn that perfectly illustrates the value of these experiments: ‘The crew is enjoying growing them, they’re enjoying eating them, and these are the exact kind of crops we can send on a long-duration lunar stay to provide supplemental nutrition. Everything we learn on station and the Moon will eventually enable doing this en route to Mars someday.’
The specific variety of pak choi was chosen because of a project much like ESA’s AstroPlant project: NASA’s Growing Beyond Earth project, which allows school pupils to grow plants in equipment similar to the ISS’s Veggie units. The pupils found that Extra Dwarf pak choi grew well in the Earth-based equipment, and it’s now been grown three times on the ISS. It’s a clear demonstration of how citizen science projects like AstroPlant can have real results.
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For more about growing plants in space, return to our AstroPlant page.