NASA and SpaceX are continuing to work on the activities leading toward the Demo-1, uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station. NASA and SpaceX are now targeting no earlier than February for the launch of Demo-1 to complete hardware testing and joint reviews. NASA and SpaceX will confirm a new target date after coordination with the Eastern Range and the International Space Station Program.
NASA and SpaceX are now targeting Wednesday, Dec. 5 for launch of the 16th SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. The launch was moved to Wednesday after mold was found on food bars for a rodent investigation prior to handover to SpaceX. Teams will use the extra day to replace the food bars. The launch time for Wednesday is 1:16 p.m. EST.
Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing predict a 60 percent chance of favorable weather for liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the company’s 16th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Launch is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec 4 at 1:38 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. On launch day, the primary weather concerns are violation of the thick cloud layer and cumulus cloud rules and flight through precipitation.
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor planted two new crops in a special garden aboard the International Space Station on Thursday, Oct. 25. If all goes well, the ‘Red Russian’ kale and ‘Dragoon’ lettuce, will be ready to enjoy in time for Thanksgiving.
The lettuce seeds arrived at the station in “plant pillows,” which are needed because of the way water moves in microgravity. Auñón-Chancellor placed the plant pillows atop a root mat, which she primed with water. She installed them in the station’s Veggie plant growth system, and completed her sowing by adding water to the growth chamber’s reservoir.
These plants are part of experiment Veg-03 G – NASA has been successfully growing veggies aboard station since 2014. The latest experiment will provide astronauts with vitamins C, K and potassium, not to mention a welcome addition to their turkey day table 250 miles above Earth.
Astronauts have lived and worked on the International Space Station continuously for more than 17 years, expanding on the earlier short-duration missions of the Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs, but going beyond those achievements will require new technology. One way NASA is working to solve the challenges of extending human presence beyond Earth’s orbit is with the eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge, which provides college students the opportunity to participate in the development of new technologies that increase the viability of long duration deep space missions.
For the past eight years, teams of students have submitted proposals for specific research questions posed by the X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge. Once selected, NASA awarded the schools grants ranging from less than $17,000 to more than $150,000 for supplies and necessities, which the university matched. Sponsoring programs included Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications, Human Research Program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and Advanced Exploration Systems. Then the students spent months working as a team with support from NASA subject matter experts as the team developed solutions to their topic. Four of the eight projects for the 2018 X-Hab involved students working with NASA researchers at Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Research and Technology Programs’ Utilization and Life Sciences Office, developing new ideas for growing plants in space.
“What we’re really focusing our attention on right now is how do we get nutrition in play, and how do we get automation, and use smart systems,” said Charles Quincy, a NASA researcher at Kennedy.
It is vital to have autonomous systems capable of making decisions about growing plants because astronauts are unlikely to have much time to spend farming during deep space missions. Long distances also will delay communications, making it harder for ground crews to use remote commands to grow food for the crew. Microgravity, growing plants in a closed loop during the voyage, and an environment very different from Earth are all complications to growing food in space that challenged X-Hab 2018 participants.
Students from the University of Michigan worked on designing and prototyping a substrate, a material in which a plant grows, that uses 3D printing to achieve effective plant growth in microgravity. Students from the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute attempted to improve the sustainability of food crop production by producing substrate using 3D printing technology and reusing the same substrate for multiple crops. Temple University students developed a fresh produce sanitation system to manage microbial growth in space. Finally, Utah State University students designed a 3D printed matrix system for integration into the Veggie growth platform on the space station to better understand providing water and nutrients to plants.
Quincy said the ideas and the entire experience of participating in X-Hab is a positive one for both the students and NASA. The teams develop design projects that have the potential of shaping future NASA missions. In turn, those teams must meet engineering milestones, conduct outreach, and attempt to leverage funding from other organizations, providing them with hands-on experience in cutting-edge research.
Kimberly Simpson, a NASA engineer at Kennedy, said that as the students reached out to experts at NASA, invariably there comes a point when the questions move beyond current knowledge, and the students had to go through the process of trying to find an answer.
One of the best things about X-Hab, from Simpson’s perspective, is that the challenge opens students to the possibility of doing research they had never considered before. In addition to bringing new ideas and technology to enable humans to travel deep into space to NASA, the challenge also develops a pipeline of young scientists and engineers.
Written by Leejay Lockhart
Students in Florida asked questions of NASA scientists on the ground and astronauts on the International Space Station to learn more about how the agency is pioneering the cultivation of plants in space to supplement astronaut diets with fresh, nutritious food. These students have directly bolstered researchers’ knowledge in the field of space plant science by participating in the Growing Beyond Earth part of The Fairchild Challenge, which has promoted education focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by engaging students to test more than 100 varieties of edible plants during the past three years for their potential viability on the space station.
Astronauts on the orbiting laboratory use the Vegetable Production System, known as Veggie, to study plants. These experiments also have a practical side. Not only do the plants augment the astronauts’ diet with fresh food, according to astronauts, tending the crops is a source of enjoyment and a little piece of home for the crew.
Hundreds of high school students from eight schools in central Florida came to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex where NASA treated them to a presentation by Gioia Massa, a life sciences project scientist at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center, and Trent Smith, Veggie project manager, along with university students who are interns at NASA also working on growing plants for space. The high school students then had the opportunity to ask the team questions, which covered topics as diverse as using Martian soil for growing plants, to the viability of growing trees in space.
As he answered questions, Smith said working with 150 schools nationwide through The Fairchild Challenge was a tremendous benefit to NASA. Students have identified several strong candidate crops including extra dwarf pak choi and dragoon lettuce, which are undergoing final testing to determine if they are suitable for space.
“I hope to send them up in a resupply spacecraft very soon, giving astronauts new selections to grow and eat in space,” Smith said.
Massa told the crowd that The Fairchild Challenge participants had not only evaluated other promising plant varieties including Shungiku, an edible Chrysanthemum, but they had also tested horticultural techniques like cut-and-come-again which is a repetitive harvest that can increase overall food yield. She said the entire program was “a wonderful collaboration” between NASA and students.
Attention then shifted to South Florida as hundreds of Miami students who had participated in the Growing Beyond Earth portion of the Fairchild Challenge visited the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for a live downlink with crew members aboard the space station.
As part of their Year of Education on Station activities, astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel fielded questions from the students and talked about some of the challenges of living in microgravity and trying to grow space plants.
Students including Ashton Santos from Colonial High School in Orlando expressed excitement for being able to come to the visitor complex and learning directly from the people behind the science. “This experience was really valuable to me, and it really piqued my interest about agriculture in space,” Santos said. “I hope that I can find out more, and maybe I can be one of the interns there,” he added.
Camile Mason, another Colonial High School student, had the opportunity to ask the Veggie team a question and said the visit was an exciting experience. “It was very insightful,” Mason said. “It was very interesting learning about how scientists developed and changed the way we can look at agriculture even here on Earth, and how we can study and mimic conditions out in space, here.”
Written by Leejay Lockhart
The first growth test of crops in the Advanced Plant Habitat aboard the International Space Station yielded great results this week. Arabidopsis seeds – small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard – grew for about six weeks, and the dwarf wheat for five weeks.
This growth test was a precursor to the start of an investigation known as PH-01, which will grow five different types of Arabidopsis and is scheduled to launch in May on Orbital ATK’s ninth commercial resupply mission to the space station.
“The first growth test demonstrated the plant habitat can grow large plants within an environmentally controlled system,” said Bryan Onate, Advanced Plant Habitat project manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “The systems performed well in microgravity, and the team learned many valuable lessons on operating this payload on station.”
The plant habitat is now ready to support large plant testing on the space station. A fully enclosed, closed-loop system with an environmentally controlled growth chamber, it uses red, blue and green LED lights, as well as broad-spectrum white LED lights. The system’s more than 180 sensors will relay real-time information, including temperature, oxygen content and moisture levels back to the team on the ground at NASA Kennedy.
NASA and our commercial cargo provider SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Dec. 12 at 11:46 a.m. EST for their 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. This new launch date takes into account pad readiness, requirements for science payloads, space station crew availability, and orbital mechanics. Carrying about 4,800 pounds of cargo including critical science and research, the Dragon spacecraft will spend a month attached to the space station.
The annual 2017-2018 Fairchild Challenge Growing Beyond Earth recently kicked off at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami. For the past three years, plant researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida have been partnering with Fairchild to create STEM-based challenges for teachers and students in the area. More than 130 middle and high school teachers participated in the opening workshop Sept. 30. Kennedy scientists Dr. Gioia Massa and Trent Smith taught teachers about food production in space and NASA’s Veggie plant growth system currently aboard the International Space Station.
Veggie is a system that allows astronauts to grow plants and crops — some of which they can eat. Veggie is an important demonstration of how NASA applies science across disciplines — in this case Space Biology to grow a healthy crop and Human Research to ensure astronauts remain healthy — to enable human space exploration.
At the end of the workshop, teachers received mini botany labs their students will use to participate in the project during the current school year. Each lab is meant to be managed like Veggie’s hardware on station. Students have to follow research protocols set forth by NASA and Fairchild while testing factors that could influence plant growth, flavor and nutrition — all so they can help NASA pick the next crops to grow for the astronauts aboard the station.
After a month of growing plants in the Advanced Plant Habitat Flight Unit No. 1, the chamber was opened and half of the yield was harvested by Kennedy Space Center payload engineers and scientists. The Arabidopsis thaliana seeds that were grown during the test are small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard that have a short lifecycle and small genome, making it an ideal plant model for research.
The harvest involved measuring pigment molecules of some of the plants with an instrument called a FluorPen, which will give the principal investigators empirical data on the health of the plants. Following those measurements, the stems and the rosettes (circular arrangement of leaves) of the plants were harvested separately, placed inside a foil packet, and then placed inside a MiniCold Bag that quickly freezes the plants. The plants will be shipped to a team at Washington State University who will examine the plants, with the goal to comprehensively understand how these plants adapt to spaceflight during the PH-01 experiment on the International Space Station later this year.
The Advanced Plant Habitat was sent to the space station in two shipments on the Orbital ATK OA-7 and SpaceX CRS-11 resupply missions. The Advanced Plant Habitat will be set up on the space station this fall and is an enclosed, closed-loop system with an environmentally controlled chamber. The habitat will use red, blue, green and broad-spectrum white LED lights and have 180 sensors to relay information back to the team at Kennedy.
Support and funding for the Advanced Plant Habitat are provided by the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division.