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. Continue reading “First Space Zinnia Blooms and Catches Sun’s Rays on Space Station”

Space Zinnias Rebound from Space Blight on Space Station

Zinnia experimental plants growing aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have staged a dramatic New Year’s comeback from a potential near death experience over the Christmas holidays, when traces of mold were discovered.

And it’s all thanks to the experienced green thumb of Space Station Commander Scott Kelly, channeling his “inner Mark Watney!” Continue reading “Space Zinnias Rebound from Space Blight on Space Station”

Matt Damon of ‘The Martian’ Explains NASA’s Journey to Mars – ISS Crew Previews Film on Orbit

Video caption: ‘The Martian’ Star Matt Damon Discusses NASA’s Journey to Mars. Credit: NASA

The excitement is building for the worldwide movie premiere of ‘The Martian’ on Oct. 2.

Based on the bestselling book by Andy Weir, ‘The Martian’ tells the story of how NASA astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is accidentally stranded on the surface of Mars during a future manned expedition, after a sudden and unexpectedly fierce dust storm forces the rest of the crew to quickly evacuate after they believe he is dead.

In the video above, Matt Damon discusses NASA’s ongoing real life efforts focused on turning science fiction dreams into reality and sending astronauts to Mars.

Watney actually survived the storm but lost contact with NASA. The film recounts his ingenious years long struggle to survive, figure out how to tell NASA he is alive and send a rescue crew before he starves to death on a planet where nothing grows. Watney’s predicament is a survival lesson to all including NASA.

‘The Martian’ was written by Andy Weir in 2010 and has now been produced as a major Hollywood motion picture starring world famous actor Matt Damon and directed by the world famous director Ridley Scott from 20th Century Fox.

NASA’s overriding strategic goal is to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s.

‘The Martian’ is a rather realistic portrayal of how NASA might accomplish the ‘Journey to Mars.’

“Sending people to Mars and returning them safely is the challenge of a generation,” says Damon in the video.

“The boot prints of astronauts will follow the rover tracks [of NASA’s Curiosity rover] thanks to innovations happening today.”

“NASA’s Journey to Mars begins on the International Space Station (ISS) .. where we are learning how humans can thrive over long periods without gravity.”

The current six person crew serving aboard the ISS even got a sneak preview of The Martian this past weekend!

Gleeful NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, commander of the Expedition 45 crew, just tweeted a photo of the crew watching ‘The Martian’ while soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.

“Watched @MartianMovie on @Space_Station last night! Today working towards our #JourneyToMars during my #YearInSpace!” tweeted NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

Kelly comprises one half of the first ever ‘1 Year ISS Crew’ along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, aimed at determining the long term physical and psychological effects on the human body of people living and working in the weightlessness of space.

The 1 Year ISS mission is an important data gathering milestone on the human road to Mars since the round trip time to the Red Planet and back will take approximately 3 years or more.

In order to send astronauts to the Red Planet, NASA is now developing the mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift booster and the Orion crew capsule to propel astronauts farther than ever before on the Journey to Mars.

The first unmanned test flight of SLS/Orion is slated for Nov. 2018. The first manned flight could occur between 2021 and 2023 – read my new report here.

“The Journey to Mars will forever change our history books … and expand our human presence deeper into the solar system,” says Damon.

THE MARTIAN features a star studded cast that includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover.

Matt Damon stars as NASA astronaut Mark Watney in ‘The Martian.' Credit: 20th Century Fox
Matt Damon stars as NASA astronaut Mark Watney in ‘The Martian.’ Credit: 20th Century Fox

“NASA has endorsed “The Martian’” Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Sciences, told Universe Today. Green served as technical consultant on the film.

I have read the book (I’m a professional chemist) and highly recommend it to everyone.

The Martian is all about how Watney uses his botany and chemistry skills to “Science the Sh.. out of it” to grow food and survive.

Learning how to live of the land will be a key hurdle towards enabling long term space voyages.

Kelly and his ISS cremates took a big first step towards putting that theory into practice when they recently grew, harvested and ate the first space grown NASA lettuce on the ISS using the Veggie experimental rack – detailed in my recent story here.

NASA Astronauts Kjell Lindgren (center) and Scott Kelly (right) and Kimiya Yui (left) of Japan consume space grown food for the first time ever, from the aboard the  from the Veggie plant growth system on the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA TV
NASA Astronauts Kjell Lindgren (center) and Scott Kelly (right) and Kimiya Yui (left) of Japan consume space grown food for the first time ever, from the Veggie plant growth system on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

Here’s the second official trailer of “The Martian:

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

Ken Kremer

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/kenkremer.com
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/kenkremer.com

Yummy! ISS Astronauts Eat First Space-Grown Food

Video caption: That’s one small bite for a man, one giant leaf for mankind: NASA Astronauts Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui of Japan sample the fruits of their labor after harvesting a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

Going where no astronauts have gone before, a trio of “space farmers” living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have just become the first humans ever to eat food grown in space!

The gleeful munchers downed the freshly harvested crop of blood red colored “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce salad during a live webcast today, Monday, August 10, direct from the Earth orbiting outpost soaring some 250 miles (400 km) above the home planet.

“Woo hoo ! …. Cheers!” exclaimed the eager Expedition 44 astronauts comprising Kjell Lindgren, Scott Kelly and Kimiya Yui, at the moment of truth, as they consumed the fruits of their own labor.

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

The momentous salad eating event took place at 12:26 EDT from beside the innovative and groundbreaking “Veggie” plant growth system, housed inside the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory located at the end of the US section of the ISS.

“That’s awesome!” said Lindgren with a broad smile – to the audible crunchy sounds of chewing on the freshly cut space lettuce.

“Tastes good!” replied Kelly, upon happily consuming the red leafed vegetable. He is now in the 5th month of his planned 1 Year mission aboard the ISS.

“Chomp! Our first veggies were harvested & consumed by astronauts in space!” tweeted NASA.

They all welcomed the opportunity to sample some freshly grown space produce from their miniature “ space farm.” Resident ISS crewmembers have been waiting for the “GO” to eat for some time.

“It tastes like arugula,” added Kelly, as they first tried the lettuce plain, as a control taste test of the virgin crop to get “the full effect.”

“It’s fresh,” Lindgren responded.

Then they doused quickly it with some oil and vinegar for flavor comparison.

“After trying the lettuce plain, @astro_kjell and @StationCDRKelly added oil & vinegar!” NASA tweeted.

Lindgren had carefully and methodically snipped away about half of the lettuce crop, on live NASA TV – which had grown to quite a size under the carefully maintained conditions inside “Veggie.”

He then cleaned “the leafy greens” by placing them between citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes before the taste test.

After momentarily bagging the harvest, he distributed samples to his “tastemates” and the fun began.

“It’s wonderful to eat fresh food on the ISS, which is a lot of white and aluminum and it’s kind of a sterile environment,” said Kelly.

So this was quite different.

“It’s really fun to see green, growing things in here that we’re intentionally growing for sustenance. So we sure appreciate this payload and the opportunity to grow and eat and harvest these crops.”

The joyful trio saved some for the produce for their three Russian station colleagues to try later – Oleg Kononenko, Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko. Two of the Russian cosmonauts, Expedition 44 commander Padalka and Kelly’s 1 year crew mate Kornienko, were conducting a spacewalk today, simultaneously to the lettuce taste testing.

This "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce was grown inside the Veggie plant growth system on the ISS and eaten on August 10, 2015 by the station crew.  The goal was to test hardware for growing vegetables and other plants to be harvested and eaten by astronauts in space.  Credits: NASA TV
This “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce was grown inside the Veggie plant growth system on the ISS and eaten on August 10, 2015 by the station crew. The goal was to test hardware for growing vegetables and other plants to be harvested and eaten by astronauts in space. Credits: NASA TV

Another portion was set aside “to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis,” said NASA.

Although some vegetables have been grown before on the station, including prior crops of lettuce from “Veggie,” today marked the first time that any astronauts were “officially” granted “permission” to eat the fruits of their labor. Russian cosmonauts have eaten their station crops in the past. It’s a mystery whether any partner crewmates surreptitiously tasted some of the Russian produce.

And it not just for fun. In fact growing edible space food marks a significant new milestone towards enabling deep space human exploration, as explained by Kelly.

“Having lived on the space station for a while, I understand the logistical complexity of having people work in space for long periods and the supply chain that’s required to keep us going,” Kelly remarked.

“If we’re ever going to go to Mars someday, and we will, we’re going to have a spacecraft that is much more self sustainable with regard to its food supply.”

Experiments like these are critical for NASA’s plans to send humans on a “Journey to Mars” in the 2030s.

The “Journey to Mars” and back is likely to take well over two years and resupply is not possible. Crews will have to grow at least a portion of their own food and today’s experiment helps pave the human path to the Red Planet.

The “Veggie” experiment was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Veggie-01 apparatus was thoroughly tested at Kennedy before flight. It was delivered, along with two sets of pillows containing the romaine seeds and one set of zinnias, to the ISS by the SpaceX-3 Dragon cargo resupply mission launched in April 2014.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren displays the  “Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce grown inside the Veggie plant growth system on the ISS prior to harvesting and consumption on August 10, 2015.  Credit: NASA TV
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren displays the “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce grown inside the Veggie plant growth system on the ISS prior to harvesting and consumption on August 10, 2015. Credit: NASA TV

The lettuce crop inside the Veggie-01 plant pillows were activated by Kelly on July 8. They were grown for 33 days before being harvested today. The seeds had been stored dormant on the station for some 15 months since arriving aboard the SpaceX-3 Dragon, according to NASA.

The collapsible and expandable Veggie unit features a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation.

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

Ken Kremer

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/kenkremer.com
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/kenkremer.com

Space Station’s Veggies Are “Grow” to Launch

In what could become the world’s first orbiting salad bar, NASA’s Veggie experiment was initiated on May 8 after a successful (if slightly delayed) launch to the Space Station on Friday, April 18 aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. In development for several years, the LED-powered plant growth experiment is finally getting the chance to put down its roots.

After receiving the experiment on Sunday, April 20, Expedition 39 astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson installed the Veg-01 unit inside ESA’s Columbus module on May 7. The next day Veg-01 was turned on, with a root mat and six small pillows containing “Outredgeous” romaine lettuce seeds within a special fertilized clay inserted inside its collapsible Teflon bellows.

The inside of the Veg-01 unit aboard the ISS (Source)
The inside of the Veg-01 unit aboard the ISS (Source)

The lettuce plants are scheduled to grow for 28 days, during which time they will be periodically photographed, watered, and tested for any microbial growth. The pillows will be thinned down to one plant each, and after the experiment is over the remaining lettuce leaves will be harvested and frozen to be returned to Earth aboard another Dragon capsule later this year. There they’ll be tested and compared with the results of an identical Veggie experiment that’s being conducted at the same time at Kennedy Space Center.

If all goes well, the lettuce will be found to be safe for astronauts to eat. While they await the results, the next experiment can be started.

“My hopes are that Veggie will eventually enable the crew to regularly grow and consume fresh vegetables,” said Dr. Gioia Massa, the NASA science team lead for Veggie.

In addition to providing healthy food, having living plants to care for could be therapeutic for astronauts on long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond. (Let’s just hope it doesn’t one day end up like Silent Running!)

The Veggie system was developed for NASA by Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin, via a Small Business Innovative Research Program. Its innovations may eventually lead to better food production not only in space but also in limited-resource regions on Earth. Learn more about the Veg-01 experiment in my previous article here.

Source/more info: NASA news release (Also, see some photos of Veg-01 installed on the ISS here.)

A Salad Bar for the Space Station

Freeze-dried bags of dehydrated “astronaut food” may seem like a fun novelty for school kids on Earth, but despite all the hard work that goes into providing the residents of the Space Station with nutritious and varied meal options there’s one thing that remains a rare and elusive commodity on astronauts’ menus: fresh produce.

Although fruit and vegetables do occasionally find their way aboard the ISS via resupply missions (to the delight of the crew) researchers are moving one step closer to actually having a vegetable garden in orbit. On Monday, April 14 Friday, April 18, NASA’s Veg-01 experiment will launch to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule to test the in-flight viability of an expandable plant growth chamber named “Veggie.”

In development for several years, Veggie is now getting its chance to be space-tested with the launch of the SpaceX-3 resupply mission. Veggie uses clear collapsible bellows as miniature greenhouses, inside which plant “pillows” can be cultivated with the aid of root-mats and a bank of LED lights.

Crops successfully grown in Veggie include lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, Chinese cabbage and peas.  (NASA)
Crops successfully grown in Veggie include lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, Chinese cabbage and peas. (NASA)

Astronauts will see how well “Outredgeous” romaine lettuce fares in microgravity inside the Veg-01 experiment, and can also use the LED bank as a light source for other experiments.

“Veggie will provide a new resource for U.S. astronauts and researchers as we begin to develop the capabilities of growing fresh produce and other large plants on the space station,” said Gioia Massa, the NASA payload scientist for Veggie. “Determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test.”

While other plant-growth experiments are currently aboard ISS, Veggie boasts the simplest design and largest growing area of any of them to date.

The Veggie "pillow" is expandable to 11.5 inched wide by 14 inches deep. Credit: NASA/Bryan Onate
Veggie’s Teflon bellows is expandable to 11.5 inched wide by 14 inches deep. Credit: NASA/Bryan Onate

“Our hope is that even though VEGGIE is not a highly complex plant growth apparatus, it will allow the crew to rapidly grow vegetables using a fairly simple nutrient and water delivery approach.”
– Howard Levine, Ph.D. and chief scientist at  Kennedy Space Center (2012)

In addition to providing fresh food, maintaining a miniature garden in orbit would be therapeutic for astronauts on long-duration missions.

“Based upon anecdotal evidence, crews report that having plants around was very comforting and helped them feel less out of touch with Earth,” Massa said. “You could also think of plants as pets. The crew just likes to nurture them.” 

The Veggie system was developed for NASA by Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin, via a Small Business Innovative Research Program. Its innovations may eventually lead to better food production not only in space but also in limited-resource regions on Earth.

With the ultimate success of Veggie, ISS astronauts may soon find themselves floating in line at the in-house salad bar. (Watch out for those rogue croutons!)

Read more in the NASA news article by Linda Herridge here, and learn more about the Veggie project here.