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article imageAstronaut’s photo of space flower a global milestone

By Georgia Williams     Jan 19, 2016 in Science
Scott Kelly isn’t the first astronaut to tweet while in space, and he probably won’t be the last. However, on Monday morning he became the first astronaut to ever tweet a photo of a flower in full bloom grown in space.
The bright orange and yellow Zinnia which has been grown aboard the International Space Station (ISS) under Kelly’s care instantly went viral when the American astronaut tweeted the photo along with the caption, "First ever flower grown in space makes its debut.. Yes, there are other life forms in space!"
The ISS’ "autonomous gardener" Kelly assumed the role and his space green thumb after fellow astronaut and crew member Kjell Lindgren made his return to Earth in December. With a single page of instructions Kelly nursed the Zinnia back to health after it began to slowly decline after Lindgren’s departure.
The Zinnia that Kelly tweeted was the only surviving seedling of three that had sprouted aboard the Soyuz TMA-16M.
Despite its tropical beauty, the Zinnia was chosen to be part of the NASA project dubbed, ‘Veggie’ to assess the viability of growing vegetation in microgravity environments. According to NASA it is more difficult to grow a flowering crop in space and the Zinnia presents a good learning opportunity for scientists aboard and on Earth.
“While the plants haven’t grown perfectly, I think we have gained a lot from this, and we are learning both more about plants and fluids and also how better to operate between ground and station,” Dr. Gioia Massa, NASA science team lead for the flowers in space project said.
While the Veggie team has had previous success growing lettuce and wheat which was consumed by astronauts, the Zinnia project is the first flowering plant to survive aboard the ISS and may be a precursor to other crops and flowering plants that can be grown in space.
“It is a more difficult plant to grow, and allowing it to flower, along with the longer growth duration, makes it a good precursor to a tomato plant,” said Trent Smith, Veggie Project manager.
Aside from the wealth of information growing vegetation in space provides astronauts, scientists and psychologists believe that tending the gravity-less garden can be a stress coping mechanism much like it is on Earth. There is also an added psychological component of being able to eat fresh food in inhospitable environments, think of it as a morale boost.
Alexandra Whitmire, deputy element scientist for the behavioral health and performance at NASA, told the UK Express, “Plants can indeed enhance long duration missions in isolated, confined and extreme environments – environments that are artificial and deprived of nature.”
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