After successfully growing (and eating) lettuce, astronauts on the International Space Station have graduated to zinnias. The new plants sprouted vigorously, and researchers are hoping the colourful flowers will bud soon.
The ISS is continuing to grow edible plants in their Veggie facility as part of the VEG-01 investigation. Once they work out the kinks of astronauts accidentally over-watering in their anxiety, mission planners are hoping that space-based gardens like this will be a boon for long-duration missions. So far, the zero-gravity plants are heftier than their terrestrial kin.
The plants are growing in the Veggie chamber. The box can theoretically grow all sorts of plants with customised lighting. Plant roots dig into nutrient-soaked one-time-use pillows. The chamber previously housed lettuce; these zinnias are the first flowering plants for the space station.
Zinnias are a popular flower for amateur gardeners: they're bright, colourful, edible, and one of the easiest flowers to grow. The plants are being cared for by astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Peake. They're varying the amount of water needed for each plant based on its health.
Hopefully they won't make the mistake of overwatering this time. Lessons learned from the zinnias can be applied to growing other flowering edible plants like tomatoes. It also has ramifications here on Earth for growing food with limited resources.
While zinnias can be eaten on their own, they're most popular made into tea or incorporated into tacos or pancakes. Considering tortillas are one of the most popular foods on the space station, will we soon be getting photo ops of astronauts munching on flower-stuffed tacos?
Top image: Zinnia flowers blooming on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA