NASA’s Green Thumb


Taking up residence on the Red Planet is now possible due to NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s green thumb. Kelly posted a picture of the bright Zinnia flower in its full bloom on Saturday on his Twitter feed. The cultivation of this Zinnia plant is preceded by failed efforts by VEG 01— a module dedicated to the cultivation of edible plants in outer space.

The efforts of the International Space Station (ISS) resulted in several of the plants dying. They couldn’t survive due to high humidity and low air flow. According NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, these were the reasons for the plants’ drying up and developing mould. The leaves were unnaturally curling as well, indicating signs of stress. The ISS had started growing Zinnias in the Veggie station last November. Upon noticing the effects that the limited air flow had on the plants, the astronauts turned up the fans. However the damaged and rotting parts of the plants had to be cut. An unscheduled space walk in mid- December also prevented the astronauts from caring for and monitoring the crops, which by then had begun to die.

Soon Kelly undertook the gardening work in the Veggie station, stating that he channelled his inner Mark Watney Matt Damon’s character in The Martian— and decided to provide more water to the dying crops even the though the next watering wasn’t until December 27th . “The Zinnia Care Guide for the On-Orbit Gardener,” is a basic guideline for plant care, but leaves all judgment calls up to the astronaut who is physically working with the plants thereby supporting Kelly as an autonomous gardener. Kelly’s tweets, since, boast of his success in managing to nurture a Zinnia plant into full bloom.

The ISS has sent the dead and decaying to the ground station in order to study them further. The blooming of the Zinnia plants is just the first step in space gardening and agriculture. NASA has plans for the Chinese Cabbage, the red romaine lettuce and eventually the dwarf tomato. Astronauts may channel their inner Mark Watney, but they needn’t live on bland potatoes in the future.