January 5, 2012
I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me. I am not one of the beautiful; I am not one that by any other name instills flutters in the human heart. I am the kind that makes little boys gag at the dinner table thus being sent to bed without their dessert. I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini – and I am in space.
I became aware of my fellow crewmates for the first time. It takes a sprout a few days before grasping your surroundings. One is my gardener who waters my roots every day. I overheard that we are in a spacecraft orbiting Earth and are part of a long space mission. As crew, I am not sure of my role but am ready to contribute what I can.
I discovered that my roots are bound in a ziplock bag. This bag has a canoe shaped piece of closed cellular foam wedged in the opening that retains the needed moisture. My stem is held in place by a piece of scrap spongy material called pigmat. Used for absorbent packing for spacecraft supplies, pigmat will soak up spillage from liquid containers. It makes a nice transition between the stuffy closed cell foam and my green parts and will keep nasty mold away from my stem.
This is most definitely not hydroponics; my roots are not submerged in a bag of water. This bag is mostly filled with air and only has a small amount of water neatly tucked in the corners from the action of capillary forces in weightlessness. This is aeroponics, a rather new method for raising plants without soil and without large volumes of water. Only a small amount is needed, just enough to keep my roots at 100 percent humidity and make up for what I drink. My roots are not hermetically sealed in this bag, they have access to gas exchange with the cabin air. My roots are thus exposed in this transparent bag, naked to the universe. Embarrassed, it took me a few days to get over the idea that anyone can see my roots without any dirt covering them.
I reach for the light. It burns brightly and makes my cotyledons a happy vibrant green. There is a small plastic bag loosely set over my top that keeps the humidity high for my tender new leaves. My roots are another matter. They sense sourness, the kind that makes one want to tip-toe across the floor for fear of getting something on your feet. But for now it does not matter. I am living off the nutrients in my seed pod.
My cotyledons, like a drogue chute in a parachute deployment sequence, provide the photosynthetic nourishment until my real leaves can form. Now I stretch my first leaf and orient it towards the light. My cotyledons, having served their purpose, will soon wilt. The plastic bag cover was removed by my gardener.
My gardener fusses with me several times a day. He checks that I have water, light, and with a hypodermic syringe, injects this tea concoction into the ziplock bag. It bathes my roots with a not so tasty drink however it does seem to contain the nutrients I need. I won’t complain; on expeditions into the frontier the food is often this way.
My gardener fusses with my leaves. I am not sure if I like that. I now have four and I do not quite understand why he behaves this way. He sticks his nose up against them. Does he take me for some sort of a handkerchief? Apparently he takes pleasure in my earthy green smell. There is nothing like the smell of living green in this forest of engineered machinery. I see the resultant smile. Maybe this is one of my roles as a crewmember on this expedition.
I am about 15 centimeters high now but still only have four leaves. I am vibrant green and happy. My roots still drink this sour tea but it seems to have everything I need. I am reluctant to ask my crewmate where this comes from.
I found out what the tea is made from. Apparently we have a space compost pile. A plastic food bag is filled with a mixture of paper scraps, orange peels, garlic skins, apple cores, and other various food leftovers. Nobody eats the packets of freeze dried green beans and these seem to compost well. To this was added a teaspoon of dirt from Mother Earth. When kept wet, it stays warm to the touch. Liquid tea, extracted from this mess is what I have to drink. It makes me gag not unlike what my kind does to little boys at the dinner table. I suppose this is orbital Karma but hey, I am in space and part of this mission and am standing tall and green.
Light comes in different flavors. Currently I have only one kind. It is becoming boring to my leaves and my stems are reluctant to keep them properly oriented. And it stays on continuously for 24 hours a day. I heard my crewmates discussing this. It is a special light fixture with a flavor balanced to help crews sleep shift. It works for me as well but this constant intensity all with the same flavor is getting to me.
Oh glorious day! I discovered a window with a view – and my leaves sing. It is a small out of the way window tightly packed with stowage. It looks directly at Earth which reflects bright diffuse sunlight off the wintertime clouds. This reflection is so bright that my crewmates need to wear sunglasses else their eyes begin to tear. I drink from this fountain of light and in turn my leaves release extra essence of green, which I can see brings my crewmates’ olfactory pleasures.
I am becoming quite popular. I heard one say that he would vacuum the HEPA filters for my gardener if he could have five minutes with his nose close to me.
I have a call sign. I guess a call sign is a fighter pilot thing and was surprised that I could earn such a title. At first someone suggested “Four-Leaf”. I was a bit embarrassed when I heard this since I still only sport four leaves and feel a bit sensitive to this fact. My gardener intervened and said that would not do. He gave me my call sign – “Rose”.
I am becoming confused. These 16 short periods of day and night every 24 hours are making me jet-lagged. My photosynthesis activity just gets going and then abruptly shuts down. Repeating this cycle is putting me into a dither. My leaves do not sing as loud.
My gardener is now moving me around this spacecraft and I can get a better view of the place. By crew work day, I am moved under the sleep shift light. During crew sleep I am placed by the window. This schedule works much better for me. I get the pleasure of basking in real sunlight as well as the steady glow from the lamp.
I am making flowers. I do not know if this is from the light or the nutrients in my tea. I currently have four little flower buds, all neatly tucked under my four leaves. It seems that I should be making more leaves, not flowers. Maybe it is because I am in space and this is what zucchinis are supposed to do.
I learned that my gardener has a gardener too. Only his gardener does not water him but speaks to him from a panel on the wall. His gardener must be very important. They stop whatever they are doing whenever he calls.
My flower buds are developing. I will soon be in full orange bloom. My gardener is behaving like an expecting father. There is excitement in the air.
One of my buds opened today and is in full bloom. Surprisingly, it does not open all the way but looks more like an inverted orange umbrella that got stuck at the halfway point. My spherical shaped stamens give off a tantalizing essence. My gardener did not tell his crewmates about this and kept me all to himself.
My gardener made special arrangements for a two way video conference with a special Earth-flower. When all the arrangements had been made, he took me from my window and placed me center stage in front of the video camera. She was a very attractive flower all neatly dressed. He said to her, “I can not offer you much; I can only give you a space zucchini.” The image of my orange blossom was beamed across the void between spacecraft and Earth. Her heart melted. I felt as much a rose as any rose could ever be. He picked my flower and opened a large book, an atlas. Placing my bloom on the map of Texas, over Houston town, he closed the book and clamped it shut with a piece of Kapton tape. He said come July, when our mission is over, he will present this to her in person. I thought that something must be wrong for both of them had tears. In space, tears do not run down your cheeks but remain as a glob in the corner of your eye.
There was excited talk about my blossoms today. They were all looking forward to seeing little zucchinis in space. I did not have the heart to tell them one small detail. I make two kinds of flowers; male flowers with only stamens and female flowers that produce zucchinis. Being part of this all man-crew, it was fitting for me to make only male flowers.
Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.
46 thoughts on “Diary of a Space Zucchini”
I think you have nailed it. You have nailed some good science communication here. You are informing, being fun, being poetic, being technical. I am a science journalist and book author for young adults, and if I were in space right no, this is exactly what I woud have done. I love it being written from the point of view of the zucchini. Brilliant.
Kudos Constant Space Gardener!
What a great little story, most enjoyable.
this was quite a good cute read in a small nice gesture id like to say thank you space men and women <3 <3 its must be an amazing view can you see heaven 🙂
Don, I hope we get to read more of Rose’s diary from space; this was terrific!
Oh, maybe Rose needs a new name, if it is male flowers that he produces.
The first consumable crop harvested in space will be a bonanza and a milestone passed for our species. Thanks for your diary.
que lindo parece um poema do espaço adorei continue sempre com essas pesquisa seremos todo gratos um dia
When is Rose’s autobiography coming out? I’d read it 🙂
Keep up the spirit Don!
I see You flying by every night here in Sweden – it’s inspiring.
I’m currently recovering from fever and I’m looking at my zucchini and rice dish in a different perspective. Not only some light vegetable to eat! A step forward in science. And it makes me very hopeful, too. It means that no matter if you are just zucchini, everyone can contribute to the progress of mankind. Saluti dall’Italia!
We are growing aeroponically in Ireland, and love reading your blog! Amazing how far apart we are, yet doing the same thing. Are you thinking of growing any other vegetables or lettuce?
Your “Diary of a Space Zucchini” is explendid and interesting. I am going to ask my daughter (9th grader) to read it. Rather than providing boring metrics about the development of this beautiful plant, you have such lively diary about its growth processes. In short, it makes you want to know more about the plant and its matrics. Indeed, this diary actually makes you want to know more about the hard scientific aspects of it than actually reading a botanical report about it at first sight. I wish science magazines could do the same. This diary approach to your botanical lesson is extraordinary. One question: can I get more diary-style reports about your hard science experiments at the station? Sincerely, a fan.
I must say that I truly enjoyed reading the diary of this little zucchini. What a great research project and very well written. I like to see writers create different types of informative pieces using a different point of view.
Love it! I can only imagine how GOOD it is to smell green, growing things aboard ISS. Please tell Space Zucchini that millions of his sisters and brothers will be watching him in the sky above during the next few weeks.
Don, I put on my roof my tomatoe:
(France, Dijon, latitude 47.333 47°19’N/longitude 5.033 5°1E)
If Zucchini is looking through the Cupola window at the same time you cross the land, they can meet each other and have some conversation.
I enjoyed the coverage of plant growth on ISS. It was interesting to see how botanical research is conducted in space and see what zucchini farming in the future on space flights to other planets may look like. Will we be seeing the actual zucchini vegetable grow and be made into a zucchini dish for the crew to eat?
This particular blog would also be great as a purely scientific blog. We are up for and to it!
All of us gourmets here on earth are wondering what zucchini bread baked in space (on the ISS) would look like. Would it be loaf shaped, a sphere or some other shape?
What a wonderful diary. More research and data please! This is exactly why the ISS is important. Awesome.
That was brilliantly written from the first to the last.
Thanks so much for sharing this and that space-zucchini looks pretty great – one small stamen for plant, one giant leap for flora-kind! Rose shall be a legend someday.
I usually find myself looking at the hardware, the spacewalks, all the comings & goings. I was nice to stand back a while “and smell the zucchinis”.
Dave D. (UK)
Such a beautiful blossoming turn of events. I almost had tears in my eyes. Is so emotional. God bless the gardener and his “Rose.” Thank you so much for your research and this public experiment!
keep growing little miracle of life in space! we are all “rooting” for you! maybe, just maybe, we can see your cousins at the local famer’s market adding a bit of space/spice to our tables. (way to go gardeners. just what else do y’all have growing up there that we don’t know about? i mean..a little “spacey pot” might go over really well at my local dispensary.LOL)
on a serious note, i want you all to know that you are in our prayers/thoughts/meditations. it has always been my greatest aspiration since a child growing up in nowhere texas watcig the work being done on the moon at the time that i could one day spend even a moment in outer space. so, keep up the great work you are doing for all of mankind.
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What about growing in low gravity like mars
That would be cool to know
Next mission: Grow more plants in space. Epic and Captivating, Great Job!
Muito mais importante que simplesmente cultivar a semente é perceber que desde que existam condições minimas no universo…ali existirá também a possibilidade do desenvolvimento da vida, seja ela vegetal ou animal…portanto o homem a cada dia prova ser capaz de desenvolver tecnologia para transformar o ambiente hostil do espaço também em sua casa e sua sobrevivência…lindo evento…parabéns a equipe da estação espacial.
Hi! My name is Robin and I have 3 boys. One is 22 and in college, but our 15 and 12 year old are homeschooled by me and both have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our 15 year old, Sam, has Asperger’s and LOVES space and astronomy. When I came across your Diary of a Space Zucchini, I just had to let him know about it. We spent the time reading it together and just loved it!!! We can’t wait to hear more about Rose!!
Thank you from a grateful mom and a special boy named Sam!
Love this blog. what a gem! keep it up. I’m a big fan now.
That is sooo awesome! I love this! This proves how intelligent space workers really are!!! <3 I LOVE IT!
A somewhat imaginative way to document the sprouting and growth of a zucchini plant.
I enjoyed it, but it ended on a low. What no female flowers.
No female, no zucchini!!!
Get some female flowers and let the zucchinis develop and grow.
Well done NASA.
This is so beautiful to read.. I always thought if I ever became an astronaut, I will always describe things for my friends back at home.. but your writing is beautiful.. scientific, clear, poetic and I suddenly realize I don’t know much about gardening haha and I am not that good a writer to start with 😛
Thank you for sharing this wonder..
how does the space zucchini taste?
Wow, just wow.
Great piece of writing
Amazing amazing amazing
I must say that I enjoyed reading the diary of this little zucchini.thank u ISS
Abdul – Libya
That zucchini story was great! Keep it going!
on a technical note the Rose is most likely getting too much red / orange light promoting the formation of flowers and fruit instead of leaves. it most likely has to do with the 16 periods of nights and days
or 32 twilight periods during which red orange light is a dominant wavelength. As long as there is sufficient nutrients this wont pose much of a problem but if you want to get a healthy plant it will need more surface area to generate energy with (more leaves).
this info may or may not be totally correct but i work with an algae project and run my own small home hydroponics system so this is my advice.
Excellent to see more about growing in space!
I’m wondering if you’ve got any more technical links? I’m would love to see how plant physiology and growth is altered in a low-g environment.
did you always leave the roots exposed to light?
also, did you have any problems with pythium?
Well done, Astronaut Pettit! Alas, you leave the reader(s) hanging.. What has become of dear Rose since Valentines day??
Thank you for your reportage from near earth orbit. … I only can wish that your fellow travelers find it in their hearts to aid in removing the monkishness of your celibacy by sprouting a female of your species. … And then the joy of your weightless union might bring fruiting bodies forth. … Tasty fruiting bodies.
The violet thrives under 24hour florescent light. It grows well with with no sun and no darkness yet grows strong leaves and blooms with only artificial light. It does poorly if placed in a sunny window.
The strong, stiff leaves of the violet wilt and die if they get wet, and the violet’s roots must stay moist–not wet. It thrives when grown in (acidic?) soil in a permeable pot that sits in a pool of water. A gardener with two black thumbs can easily be a successful violet gardener. The violet can grow for weeks to months with no attention. Just keep water in the pool. It has almost no stem. The petals of the violet flower are edible; possibly tasteless. I don’t know the toxicity of the remainder of the plant. Perhaps the violet should have its moment in orbit or share its genetic strengths with those of space zucchini. What strange fruit would this produce; the vicchini?
Does the little Zucchininaut have a name… I thinking: Kevin.
Keep the blogs coming!!!
Are there further entries from the zucchinnaut?
I discovered this blog just today, and must say it is a delightful and very entertaining viewpoint.
I plan on sharing this with my new step-grandchildren (my daughter married a gentleman with 3 young children just last month).
What a wonderful introduction to science, exploration and agriculture.
Thank you Don Pettit.
It’s so very nice!
We love the dairy. We are going to plant zucchinis hanging on our windows. Let’s see what happen!
Greetings, Zucchininaut! You have received tribute in the form of a Gheorgheniplex cartoon. Okay, you’re not overwhelmed – after all, you’re a big star. But we at h2g2.com – the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Earth Edition – just wanted to let you know we appreciate all you NASA folk do. We’re big fans. Thanks, Dmitri Gheorgheni and the team at the h2g2 Post.
It’s really awesome post i really like it
I like your blog very much. Thank you for your very nice articles. As a student i always search for new blogs or articles or recent news to learn something new. And i look forward to visiting your site in the future!
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