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Space Station and Flowers: New Growth Will Teach About Blooming Vegetables

Nov 17, 2015 01:03 PM EST

In a first for the International Space Station (ISS), space researchers and travelers may be able to see zinnias -- a favorite bright flower of garden boxes everywhere -- growing in the protected environment of the space laboratory just after New Year's.

The zinnia seeds were recently activated as part of the ISS's Vegetable Production System (Veggie) . This is the first time a flowering crop will be included, and it will provide information about other flowering plants that could be produced in space, according to a release.

"Growing a flowering crop is more challenging than growing a vegetative crop such as lettuce," Gioia Massa, NASA Kennedy Space Center payload scientist for Veggie, in the release. "Lighting and other environmental parameters are more critical."

In order to encourage the zinnias, Lindgren will switch on red, blue and green LED lights, turn on the water and nutrient system to the Veggie system, and keep an eye on plant growth. The zinnias will take about 60 days to mature, which is twice as slow as the Outredgeous red romaine lettuce that previously grew on the space station.
The growth cycle will be accompanied by LED lights on for 10 hours and off for 14 hours, the release confirmed.

Learning more about how to grow flowering plants will be the precursor to knowing enough to grow fruiting plants, such as tomatoes, noted Trent Smith, program manager of Veggie at Kennedy, in the release.

Other study areas regarding the zinnias will be seed stow and germination for long periods; pollen and whether it will be an issue; and crew-morale impacts. Tomato plants are planned for 2017, the release confirmed.  Veggie is the product of Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wis.

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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