Tech by VICE

The Advanced Plant Habitat Welcomes Its First Crop on the Space Station

The space wheat represents “the first true foray into studies involving space-based agricultural cycles.”

by Becky Ferreira
Apr 12 2018, 12:00pm

Green thumbs around the world chase the satisfaction of a healthy crop, and now plant-tenders in the off-world habitat of the International Space Station (ISS) are getting in the agronomical action.

A time-lapse released Wednesday by NASA documents the first grow out in the station’s newly installed Advanced Plant Habitat (APH). Watch as a small batch of dwarf wheat and Arabidopsis (a type of flowering rockcress) blooms from seeds to stalks in the small microwave-sized facility.

This is the first space harvest grown in the APH, which arrived at the station last year (Motherboard had a chance to check out the lab that developed it before the launch). While NASA astronaut Joe Acaba prepped the grower by inserting the seeds in February, the crops were thereafter tended by an automated, closed-loop system called the Plant Habitat Avionics Real-Time Manager, or PHARMER (heuheu).

As the wheat and rockcress sprouted, PHARMER continually collected data from 180 sensors that monitor a wide range of conditions like temperature, humidity, light levels, visual imagery—everything you’d need to know for a successful grow.

These results were relayed along every five seconds for analysis at the Experiment Monitoring Room in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The ground team is interested in how microgravity impacts plant development, which is information that will be vital to any long duration spaceflight missions to the Moon, Mars, or more distant frontiers.

Read More: Inside NASA’s Space Farming Labs

This is not the first time that plant life has been successfully nourished on the ISS. Astronauts have even had the opportunity to taste test some of the lettuce grown in previous incubators like the Veggie plant system. But APH represents “the first true foray into studies involving space-based agricultural cycles,” according to NASA.

“Not only can we grow small plants, but we will be able to grow seed to seed,” said APH project manager Bryan Onate in a statement. “This means that an entire line of plants could be grown from one seed brought from Earth, creating generations of offspring destined for life among the stars. If we can get seeds that are viable in space and grow multiple generations from that one seed, that’s a new capability. And we now have the space to do that kind of testing with APH."

“We’ve tried to create a little Mother Earth.”

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