First Space Zinnia Blooms and Catches Sun’s Rays on Space Station

The first Zinnia flower to bloom in space is dramatically catching the sun’s rays like we have never seen before – through the windows of the Cupola on the International Space Station (ISS) while simultaneously providing a splash of soothing color, nature and reminders of home to the multinational crew living and working on the orbital science laboratory.

Furthermore its contributing invaluable experience to scientists and astronauts on learning how to grow plants and food in microgravity during future deep space human expeditions planned for NASA’s “Journey to Mars” initiative.

NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly is proudly sharing stunning new photos showing off his space grown Zinnias – which bloomed for the first time on Jan. 16, all thanks to his experienced green thumb.

The most breathtaking view, seen above, shows the newly blooming Zinnia soaking up sunlight inside the seven windowed Cupola – backdropped by our beautiful Earth and one of the stations huge power generating solar arrays. The domed Cupola is the astronauts favorite place on station.

“Yes, there are other life forms in space!” Kelly tweeted in glee over the weekend with a magnificent series of photos of the fruits of his space gardening labor.

“How does your garden grow? Here’s how my #spaceflower came to bloom,” Kelly noted.

So the six humans currently aboard the ISS are now sharing the orbiting outpost with the experimental Zinnias being grown in the stations Veggie plant growth facility.

Whereas the Zinnia plants are normally bathed with red, green and blue LED lighting in the chamber, Kelly decided to further nurture the plants with some all natural sunlight from our life giving sun.

The Veggie experiment is comprised of “pillows” holding the Zinnia flower seedlings that provide nutrients to the plants root system inside the experimental and low-cost illuminated growth chamber.

Blooming space Zinnia out in the sun for the first time aboard the International Space Station! Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

Kelly is clearly relishing his new role as “Veggie commander” of the now thriving Zinnias by following in the fictional footsteps of botanist Mark Watney in “The Martian” and deciding on his own how best to care for the plants.

But it almost wasn’t to be. Only a few weeks ago, these same Zinnias were suffering from a serious case of space blight when he discovered traces of mold just before Christmas – as reported here.

“Our plants aren’t looking too good. Would be a problem on Mars,” tweeted Kelly.

“I’m going to have to channel my inner Mark Watney.”

Zinnia flowers growing in planting “pillows” inside the International Space Station’s Veggie facility are showing traces of mold, which were collected for study back on Earth. Veggie is part of the VEG-01 investigation to grow plants in a growth chamber while comparing their progress to ground-based counterparts. Credits: NASA/Scott Kelly

So Kelly set about to save the Zinnias from a potential near death experience.

The survival of the Zinnias is a direct result of Kelly requesting permission to take personal change of caring for the plants without having to constantly ask Mission Control for pages and pages of detailed instructions and direction.

Thus after Christmas he was liberated to act on his own discretion and christened as “an autonomous gardener.”

The Veggie science team created and gave Kelly a “simple one-page care guide as a streamlined resource” dubbed “The Zinnia Care Guide for the On-Orbit Gardener,” said NASA officials.

The Zinnias have been on the rebound ever since and the proof is in the blooming.

“Soon, the flowers were on the rebound, and on Jan. 12, pictures showed the first peeks of petals beginning to sprout on a few buds.”

“Some of my space flowers are on the rebound!” Kelly tweeted in an ISS Weekend Update to space enthusiasts and horticulturalists worldwide.

“No longer looking sad!”

Zinnia flower blooms in space for the first time in the Veggie growth facility aboard the International Space Station on Jan. 16, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

The Zinnia flowering experiment was initially started on Nov. 16, 2015 when NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren activated Veggie’s rooting “pillows” containing zinnia seeds.

Kelly is now on the final leg of his historic “1Year ISS Mission” aboard the outpost and conducting hundreds of experiments aimed at paving the way for multi-year expeditions to the Red Planet.

In 2015, the ISS crew had already proven they could successfully grow, cultivate and eat space grown romaine lettuce which they gleefully harvested from Veggie – as I reported here.

“It was one small bite for man, one giant leap for #NASAVEGGIE and our #JourneytoMars. #YearInSpace,” tweeted Kelly back in August 2015.

Besides bringing some much needed sensory stimulation to the space station crew there is another serious purpose behind growing food and flowers with Veggie.

Learning how to grow edible food in microgravity is a key task that future astronauts will have to master to enable voyages to the Red Planet and back.

In essence Kelly’s efforts are directly contributing towards turning the realistic science fiction exploits of NASA astronaut Mark Watney in “The Martian”played by Matt Damon – into science fact for NASA’s future astronauts on a “Journey to Mars.”

The progress of the plants cultivated in the stations Veggie growth chamber will be compared to those grown on Earth as “ground truth” counterparts.

First Zinnia flower grown in space makes its debut! Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

The “Veggie” plant growth system is housed inside the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory located at the end of the US section of the ISS.

Veggie-01 was delivered to the ISS by the SpaceX-3 Dragon cargo resupply mission launched in April 2014, carrying the pillow sets containing the romaine lettuce and zinnia seeds.

The experiment reminds me of the classic science fiction movie “Silent Running” starring Bruce Dern striving to save plants growing on a future space freighter.

Zinnia flowers are starting to grow in the International Space Station’s Veggie facility in Dec. 2015 as part of the VEG-01 investigation. Credit: NASA

And speaking of the sun, here’s “A little sunrise to brighten your BlueMonday !” Kelly tweeted on Jan. 18, 2016.

A little #sunrise to brighten your #BlueMonday ! Jan. 18, 2016. #YearInSpace. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Photo of first ever blooming space Zinnia flower grown onboard the International Space Station’s Veggie facility moved to catch the sun’s rays through the windows of the Cupola backdropped by Earth. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly
Veggie demonstration apparatus growing red romaine lettuce under LED lights in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/
Ken Kremer

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC,, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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