New Life in Space

Humans have lived in Space. And so have fruit flies, mice, monkeys, chimpanzees, guinea pigs, rabbits, frogs, reptiles, and a variety of plants.  Now we can add a new life form to this list: Flowers.  The first ever space flower was revealed recently, and it’s a yellow Zinnia.

Commander Scott Kelly tweets photos of the first ever space flowers, zinnias, which bloomed on Jan. 16. Credit: Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly has been aboard the International space Station (ISS) for over 300 days.  It’s not an easy job, being away from loved ones, nature, and the rest of humanity, locked up with at most five other humans in a tin can that experiences a sunrise every 45 minutes.  It messes with your system, both physically and psychologically.  The mission gets easier in a way for Kelly, as he is becoming more used to the weightlessness of space each day, but in another way it gets harder.  Every new day is another day of battling his psychological needs, one day further removed from human contact, yet one day closer to coming home.

The return to Earth is hardest and most dangerous part of the mission, because even as Scott becomes more used to the environment of space, his body becomes further removed from the gravity that kept his bones and muscles strong.  Human beings have spent 3 billion years evolving under the influence of Earth’s constant gravity, and even with the backing of the entire planet and the amazing adaptability of our species, the odds are still not in our favour when going to space.

All physical issues aside, spacefaring humans need to manage their psychological needs, a major reason why astronauts like Scott connect with people on the internet, share photos and video, talk to kids over live feeds, and maintain daily contact with the ground.  Another way scientists are combatting the stress of isolation is to have astronauts care for plants on the ISS, hence the flower.  Stimulation is more than just visual, and combatting stress requires input to all the senses.  Plants stimulate vision, scent, and even taste, and are a natural contrast to electrical lightning and computer screens.

So growing plants in space is far more than just growing food for long missions.  They provide a type of companionship in the way they stimulate the senses.  Even on the lonely tin can above the Earth, a little piece of home goes a long way.


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