NASA has been growing plants in space for quite some time now. The question I want to answer is why? The answer may not be what you think it is.
NASA Clean Air Study
In 1989, NASA wanted to know which plants could effectively clean the air. Moreover, what toxins could plants remove from the air? They found that plants could remove significant amounts of benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde!
While plants can remove toxins in the small, controlled environment of the study, they are not that efficient in your home. In our article on Indoor Air Quality, we learned that opening a window or using an air filter was much more effective when it came to cleaning the air in your home.
In fact, further research suggests that it’s the roots, soil, and a special kind of pot that can optimize a plant’s ability to scrub the air we breathe.
So why does NASA keep growing plants in space?
Plants in Space: NASA’s Recent Missions
When I think about the plants in my home, I think about clean air, green, a little bit of nature in my living room, and better mental health. I consider my plants to be living decor, and a way to reconnect with the earth when I live in the city. Lastly, I enjoy gardening because I love to reap the reward at the end of the summer.
Nothing can beat fresh fruits and veggies in the fall.
Unsurprisingly, NASA’s reasons for growing plants is very similar!
Veggie is a space garden. The goal is to grow fresh produce, so astronauts do not experience a vitamin C deficiency or scurvy.
Moreover, they send samples back to earth to be analyzed.
They have thus far successfully grown:
- Chinese cabbage
- mizuna mustard
- red Russian kale
- zinnia flowers
Both light conditions, and water must be measured closely to ensure the plants are living in an environment that stimulates their growth!
Veggie also allows astronauts to partake in gardening, which has a significant impact on their mental health!
Advanced Plant Habitat: Self-Sufficient Plants in Space
While Veggie allows for the astronauts to partake in the gardening processes, the Advanced Plant Habitat is self-sustaining.
The primary purpose for this experiment is to understand how zero-gravity impacts plant growth. Many of these samples are sent back to earth to be analyzed.
So Why Plants in Space?
Plants are very adaptable organisms, and growing them in space will undoubtedly cause some interesting changes. But, growing plants in space has benefits beyond science.
The primary reason I would like to highlight is related to wellness.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are an integral part of the human diet. We need the vitamin C to support our immune system, and the fiber to protect our digestive health.
But we can synthesize products that are long-lasting and could be brought to space. So, why plants?
Ultimately, it comes down to mental health. A myriad of studies has shown that our stress levels drop when we are immersed in nature. Nature decreases anxiety, depression, and PTSD responses while boosting creativity!
Plants improve our emotional health!
And plants in space help astronauts glean all the same benefits, while thousands of miles from their home planet.
So the next time you wonder why they spend millions of dollars researching gardens on the space station, just remember how happy it makes you to sit under a tree, or watch a flower bloom.
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