Space-Grown Flowers Will be New Year Blooms on International Space Station

Veggie_Patch_finalFlowers could be blooming on the International Space Station after the New Year.

This morning, Nov. 16, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren activated the Veggie plant growth system and its rooting “pillows” containing zinnia seeds on the space station.

It is the first time that a flowering crop experiment will be grown on the orbiting laboratory. Growing zinnias in orbit will help provide precursory information about other flowering plants that could be grown in space.

“Growing a flowering crop is more challenging than growing a vegetative crop such as lettuce,” said Gioia Massa, NASA Kennedy Space Center payload scientist for Veggie. “Lighting and other environmental parameters are more critical.”

Lindgren will turn on the red, blue and green LED lights, activate the water and nutrient system to Veggie, and monitor the plant growth. The zinnias will grow for 60 days, which is twice as long as the first and second crop of Outredgeous red romaine lettuce that grew on the space station.

During the growth cycle, the LED lights will be on for 10 hours and off for 14 hours in order to stimulate the plants to flower.

“Growing the zinnia plants will help advance our knowledge of how plants flower in the Veggie growth system, and will enable fruiting plants like tomatoes to be grown and eaten in space using Veggie as the in-orbit garden,” said Trent Smith, Veggie program manager at Kennedy.

Researchers also hope to gather good data regarding long-duration seed stow and germination, whether pollen could be an issue, and the impacts on crew morale. Growing tomato plants on the space station is planned for 2017.

The Veggie system was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin, and tested at Kennedy before flight. Veggie, along with two sets of pillows containing romaine seeds and one set of zinnias, was delivered to the station by SpaceX on the third cargo resupply mission in April 2014.

Cygnus Prepped for More Cargo Loading

22793270772_21ec1db68f_oEngineers are opening the hatch on the Enhanced Cygnus spacecraft and the spacecraft is being rotated to its horizontal position today in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during preparations for launch December 3 to the International Space Station.

The Orbital ATK-built spacecraft, which will carry more than 7,000 pounds of equipment, experiments and supplies, is being moved and opened so teams can load the last of the gear slated for this resupply mission. The stowage loading will take place Nov. 8 to 10.

Also on Nov. 8, the Delta Mariner will dock at Port Canaveral to deliver the first stage of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will lift the Enhanced Cygnus into orbit. The booster stage will be hoisted into the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 on Nov. 11. The latest version of the Cygnus is bigger than its predecessors and can carry 25 percent more supplies on unpiloted missions to the space station. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Astronauts to Mark Station’s 15-Year Anniversary

22588197126_8b6731d892_oHumans have lived aboard the International Space Station continuously for 15 years, a record accomplishment that astronauts and cosmonauts will discuss from orbit this morning at 10:05 eastern on NASA TV. Although placed in orbit in 1998, the station did not welcome its first three residents until Nov. 2, 2000. That was the day NASA astronaut Bill Shepard and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev docked with the fledgling orbital outpost.

It would take dozens more astronauts and cosmonauts along with space shuttle missions and more than 180 spacewalks to turn the station into the functioning, cutting-edge laboratory it is today. Expedition 45 crew members will talk to the world’s news media about the space exploration milestone and what it means for research for those on the Earth and how it will help our goals for deep-space exploration in the future. The anniversary also comes as NASA stands at the cusp of launching a new generation of human-rated spacecraft to the station with partners Boeing and SpaceX.

Well-suited for years more research from its unique place in space, the International Space Station will host twice as much research time when the new spacecraft – called the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon – begin making operational flights to orbit carrying four station crew members at a time.

Cygnus Joined to Service Module

2015-3152

Engineers completed connecting the Pressurized Cargo Module with the Service Module to form the Cygnus spacecraft that will ferry more than 7,000 pounds of supplies, equipment and experiments to the International Space Station during its December mission.

Working inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, crews lifted the cargo module off its work stand and lowered it precisely onto the service module before completing the connections of fasteners and systems. The service module contains the power-producing solar arrays, propulsion system and instrumentation to steer the spacecraft once it reaches orbit.

Not carrying any crew, the Cygnus will fly autonomously to the station where astronauts there will use the robotic arm to latch onto the spacecraft and berth it to a port for unloading. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V will lift the Cygnus into space from Space Launch Complex 41.

 

 

Cygnus Loaded, Readied for Service Module

OA4cygnusforblogORB-4The next cargo module slated to deliver supplies to the International Space Station crew is loaded and is being connected to its propulsion and service module today at Kennedy.

Called Cygnus and built by Orbital ATK, the module is a two-piece spacecraft that when finished will be launched Dec. 3 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V to take a host of scientific gear, supplies and other equipment needed aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Engineers and technicians spent the last several days packing the pressurized portion of the spacecraft before rotating the cylindrical module upright so it can be lifted to join the service module. The service module holds the solar arrays and propulsion unit plus other instrumentation that will allow the Cygnus to fly to the station safely without a crew onboard. Ground controllers and astronauts will use the robotic arm on the station to grab the Cygnus and berth it to a port where its supplies can be unloaded and put to their prescribed uses. After about three weeks in space, Cygnus will be released and will fly itself into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up.

 

Veggie Success Benefits Journey to Mars – and Eaters on Earth

Veggie plant growth system containing cabbage at Kennedy Space CenterThe future for space gardening is bright. And while the ability to grow food in microgravity is an important step on the path to Mars, it also has big implications for farmers – and eaters – here on Earth.

Astronauts Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui got the first taste of space-grown food Aug. 10 when they harvested and then sampled lettuce leaves grown on the International Space Station. The “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce was cultivated in orbit inside the Veggie plant growth system. This morning, the Veggie team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center harvested lettuce from a ground-based system that otherwise was identical to the small crop grown on the station.

“Veggie has shown us we can grow plants in space pretty darn similarly to how we do on Earth,” Dr. Gioia Massa, the Veggie lead scientist for NASA at Kennedy, said at an employee briefing that included several members of the Veggie team.

“NASA has a huge heritage and legacy of innovation; we have a culture of innovation,” said the center’s deputy director, Janet Petro. “We know the ISS is a great research platform in low-Earth orbit. As we move out to Mars we’re going to have to be ‘Earth-independent.’”

In addition to the benefit to future space explorers, there are clear benefits on Earth, too. As the global population increases, the capability to grow more food crops in tighter spaces becomes more and more important.

“NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working hand-in-hand, connected with the research aboard ISS and the agency’s efforts to take humans to Mars,” said Lisa Colloredo, associate director of the program. She pointed out that once commercial spacecraft are flying people to the station, the four-person crews will extend the amount time astronauts will be able to spend on research.

Veggie’s success up to this point has provided a lot of confidence that it is possible for space crews to grow their own food, Massa added. Future crews on the International Space Station and on an eventual journey to Mars will be able to rely on freshly grown produce to enhance their diet and provide the psychological boost that comes from tending to a small crop in the otherwise sterile environment of a spacecraft.

“It’s off the Earth, for the Earth – and for the future,” Massa said.

Cygnus Pressurized Module Arrives for Launch Processing

ORB-4The pressurized cargo module of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday at 7:20 p.m. to begin processing ahead of a launch slated for Dec. 3 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Teams of Orbital ATK and NASA engineers will inspect the module in the coming days and then ready it for loading.

The cylindrical cargo module, which will carry about four tons of research materials and supplies for the International Space Station, will be joined in October to the Cygnus’ service module. The service module houses a pair of power-generating solar arrays along with a maneuvering thruster and instrumentation for the automated spacecraft. The spacecraft will guide itself to within reach of the station’s 57-foot-long robotic arm. The arm will pull the Cygnus to a connecting point on the station so astronauts can unload the spacecraft. At the end of the mission, the Cygnus will be released from the station to safely burn up in the atmosphere.

Astronauts Sample Freshly Grown Lettuce

That’s one small bite for a man, one giant leaf for mankind: Astronauts Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui of Japan sample the fruits of their labor after harvesting a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system on the International Space Station.

Learn more about Veggie and its implications for future spaceflight at:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/meals_ready_to_eat