Space Wheat Harvest Press Release
Headquarters, Washington, DC December 12, 1996
(Phone: 202/ 358-1979)
Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA
Utah State University, Logan, UT
NASA HARVEST OF MIR SPACE WHEAT MARKS U.S.-RUSSIAN FIRST
U.S. astronaut John Blaha recently harvested the first
crop of healthy plants grown through a complete life cycle in
the microgravity of space aboard the Russian space station
Mir, according to NASA scientists.
Called "Project Greenhouse," the 32 plants, a super-
dwarf wheat variety involved in this experiment, are part of
a joint cooperative initiative with NASA; Utah State
University, Logan, UT; the Institute of Biomedical Problems
Research Center in Moscow; and the Space Research Institute
of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia. Unlike
previous short-term experiments, these plants were allowed to
develop at a normal growth rate and appear to have matured
fully to produce the desired seed-containing heads, project
"Harvest of this wheat on Mir represents the first time
that an important agricultural crop and primary candidate for
a future plant-based life support system has successfully
completed an entire life cycle in the space environment,"
said Dr. David Bubenheim, project co-investigator at NASA's
Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA.
"The development of plant-based, regenerative life
support systems is critical to sustaining a crew during long-
duration missions such as Mars exploration," he continued.
"Successful growth of the wheat crop through all
developmental phases, culminating in the harvest of seeds,
demonstrates that the environment of space poses no obstacles
to the biological components of a regenerative life support
system. This information is critical for the future
application of these systems to recycle wastes and provide a
crew with water, air and food. This, in turn, makes the crew
self-sufficient, thereby enabling the practical and
economical exploration of space," Bubenheim concluded.
"Completion of a plant life cycle in microgravity would
prove that there are no 'show stoppers' -- no stages in the
life cycle that absolutely require gravity for completion,"
said Dr. Frank Salisbury, Principal Investigator, Utah State
University. "Based on first-hand reports and videos of the
plants growing aboard Mir, it appears that our super-dwarf
wheat plants have achieved that critical goal," he concluded.
The plants were grown in "Greenhouse" Svet, a small
growth chamber originally built in Bulgaria during the late
1980s according to a joint Russian/Bulgarian design. The
hardware was sent to Mir in 1990. Svet has a compact growing
area of about one square foot and can accommodate plants up
to 16 inches tall. Fluorescent lamps provide light at about
one fifth the intensity of sunlight, which is adequate for
plant growth. The wheat was grown in a substrate material
similar to kitty litter but loaded with plant nutrients.
Water was injected directly into this material and
transferred to the wheat seeds by a system of wicks. Day
length and water injection into the plant growth medium were
both controlled automatically to set points adjusted
throughout the experiment by project scientists.
A key objective of Project Greenhouse is to determine
the relative effects of the microgravity environment of space
on plant growth versus other environmental factors. These
include light, temperature, carbon dioxide and oxygen
concentrations, water vapor, water availability, substrate
moisture levels and cabin pressure. To that end,
instrumentation built at Utah State University was sent to
Mir and added to Svet to monitor the key environmental
parameters of interest. Bulgarian collaborators added new
lights and a new controller.
Additional information on the effect of environmental
factors will be provided by a second experiment currently
underway on Mir. Immediately following the first harvest, a
second set of wheat seeds was planted. These plants will be
frozen when about forty days old and returned to Earth for
biochemical analysis. This will provide the first
opportunity to analyze the biochemistry of growing green
plants as they were in space, before their fast-paced
biochemical processes have a chance to re-acclimate to
Earth's gravity, according to project scientists.
- end -
EDITOR'S NOTE: Images to accompany this release are
available to news media representatives by calling the
Headquarters Imaging Branch on 202/358-1900.
NASA photo numbers are:
Color: 96-HC-748 B&W: 96-H-748
Color: 96-HC-749 B&W: 96-H-749
Color: 96-HC-750 B&W: 96-H-750
Color: 96-HC-751 B&W: 96-H-751
Color: 96-HC-752 B&W: 96-H-752
Color: 96-HC-753 B&W: 96-H-753
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