Students helped NASA choose two of the four new varieties of plants that were sent to the International Space Station on SpaceX CRS-15 last week. Through experiments for the “Growing Beyond Earth” portion of The Fairchild Challenge, Florida middle school and high school students identified ‘Dragoon’ lettuce and ‘Extra Dwarf’ pak choi as two crops that might be good to grow onboard the space station.
For the challenge, students construct a plant growth system with conditions similar to those in the Veggie growth chambers on the ISS. The students use the system to grow different types of plants and test factors that could influence the growth, nutrition, and the taste of the produce. NASA uses results from the students’ experiments to decide which plants to grow on the space station.
Another program that connects students with plant research on the ISS is the Tomatosphere™ program, operated by First the Seed Foundation and supported by CASIS. Through the Tomatosphere program, students in grades K-12 can grow and study tomato seeds that were exposed to spaceflight conditions onboard the ISS National Lab.
Two packages of tomato seeds are provided to each classroom that participates in Tomatosphere—one package with seeds that have flown in space and one with “control” seeds that stayed on Earth. The students do not know which package is which and plant both sets of seeds to compare the plants as they grow. Through a new phase of the Tomatosphere program, students receive data from sensors that monitor the environmental conditions (temperature, pressure, and humidity) of the seeds as they travel to space and back. Each year, more than 500,000 students participate in the Tomatosphere program!
Visit spacestationexplorers.org to learn about the many other ways students can connect with the ISS National Lab!