Broccoli in space: How Pro-biotics could help grow veggies in microgravity.

Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft has been launched on May 24, 2018, from Wallops Island, Virginia to deliver goodies to the space station and six Broccoli seeds were included in the supplies to be grown there. The idea sounds fascinating that the astronauts on expeditions may soon get something fresh to eat if the things work out.

These seeds since cannot grow normally because of the absence of normal conditions have been coated with bacteria of different kinds. These beneficial microbes called endophytes are supposed to help plant growth in low gravity environment where there neither is gravity, soil or water and of course no possibility of photosynthesis, at least not naturally. 

Humans have been desperately looking for the alternative earth to ensure their survival. For this several trials have been made including ‘Veggie’- a vegetable production system used for testing if vegetables could grow in challenging conditions like space. This experiment first used Red Romaine lettuce. These were developed in space on Expedition 40, and the operation went astonishingly well. Astronauts in the year 2015 did eat the first vegetables grown in space, and now they have headed forward to develop a mechanism to grow other edibles too.

A group of eleven students from Valley Christian High School, California under the guidance of David Bubenheim of NASA and John Freeman of Intrinsyx Technologies is carrying out this experiment to understand if vegetables like Broccoli seeds coated with massive doses of probiotics could grow while orbiting the moon or probably Mars. Quest Institute for Quality Education has named the program as “Quest for Space.” The work is also part of the UW Astrobiology Program, which was the first university program of its kind when it launched 20 years ago.

Under this program, students have encapsulated microbes and covered Broccoli seeds with them so that the seeds do not get dehydrated before they reach the orbit and are placed safely in the chamber being monitored by cameras continuously. When the plants are brought back, they will be tested for growth and chlorophyll content and compared with those that were grown without microbes. The idea is to identify if the bacteria still find their way inside the plants when subjected to microgravity. The microbes might help in converting nitrogen from the air into essential nutrients and thus reduce the need for other artificial mediums. While this trial was successful on Earth, scientists are keen to find out if it works in the space too. If successful this could prove to be a significant step in the direction of developing habitat on Mars and the moon in a comparatively more natural way.