Astronauts Gardening in Space

By definition, Space is the boundless three-dimensional extent, wherein events and objects have relative direction and position. It is the vast endlessness where our solar system is moving through 200 kilometers per second. Through the course of science history, researchers and great minds of humankind have unraveled great secrets about space. However, now more than ever, massive investments of the international space agencies along with their astronauts are leading the way in research and experiments, as well as experiencing the first-hand experience of space-living.

For some people, space exploration and space-living are something far beyond their imaginations. After all, living in the vast emptiness and quietness can feel a lot like isolation, and if there are any takeaways from the recent lockdowns of the pandemic, isolation has some detrimental effects on the human psyche for some. As such, credit to those who picked up hobbies to seemingly pass the time. When talking of space-living, one of the most useful hobbies to lessen the sense of isolation and confinement for astronauts is gardening.

The Importance

Dr. Gioia Massa and her team over at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida were tasked with finding out the benefits of botany for our space voyagers. The investments of NASA’s Human Research Program or HRP initially brought them to hand out surveys to current astronauts who have the green thumb. It consisted of questions about their experiences in space gardening, and the surveys spanned several times depending on the type of plant they are currently growing. The questions aimed to determine the astronaut’s mood — was gardening meaningful, demanding, or engaging? Did it affect the performance of mission tasks, the passage of time, or even inter-crew relationships? Was gardening a good source of sensory stimulation? Did it enhance the astronaut’s connection to Earth to a certain degree? And most importantly, did it affect their desire to consume their harvest?

Apart from the questions regarding the process of growing the plants, after harvesting and consuming the vegetables, the astronauts were also given sensory assessments. They had to rate the taste, aroma, texture, color, and overall appearance of their products and whether or not it is a viable supplement to their prepackaged space food. Thus far, Massa and her team have done seven completed surveys, and they aim to finish a total of 24 by the end of it. Early findings of the study show that some may prefer activities other than gardening, but everyone found meaning in it, and they all valued the utility of space-gardening.

How Do They Do It?

Living within the confines of a spacecraft can indeed be limited to a certain degree. However, finding ways for plants to receive proper nourishments has always been a challenge for farmers. NASA Glenn’s Plant Water Management project or PWM has brought space voyagers one step closer in finding out the most effective means available for proper hydration and aeration in space-gardening.

PWM has stressed that growing plants in space have always been feasible, and it is one effective way of supplying fresh produce for astronauts who embark on long journeys through space. One hurdle in space-gardening is zero gravity, which causes the roots of the plants to grow differently as they would here on Earth. As such, NASA’s researchers focused their investments in determining whether the traditional way of putting soil to aerate and hydrate the plants is more feasible or would the use of hydroponics without soil be better. They utilized artificial means of conducting the experiments due to the shelf-life of real plants. Surprisingly enough, the experiments show that the use of a fruit punch induced with sugar and nutrients gave plants the best Earth-like conditions. The plants would easily absorb the fruit punch to get proper nutrients to grow properly. PWM has been credited for completing one set of space operations in April, and there is no doubt that their impact on space-gardening will be utilized by space voyagers for years to come.