You read that one right. Astronauts have officially grown the first flower, a bright and cheerful zinnia, in space. Efforts to grow edible plants in microgravity has spanned over the last two years, and the product is the blooming of several colorful, long-lasting, edible flowers.
U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted a celebratory photo of one of the zinnia flowers and wrote: "First ever flower grown in space makes its debut! #SpaceFlower #zinnia #YearInSpace". Needless to say, there is much excitement surrounding the blossoming of these little creatures.
According to a recent NASA blog, Kelly had revived the flowers after mold began to grow on some of the leaves due to high humidity levels.
Though this is the first flower that had grown in space, it is not necessarily the first plant.
Back in 2014 the International Space Station (ISS) had launched its Veggie Plant System, which was meant to serve as a space garden, where "a variety of plant species can be cultivated for educational outreach, fresh food and even recreation for crew members on long-duration missions."
So far, the ISS has grown red romaine lettuce aeroponically, meaning it is grown in an air or mist environment without soil.
NASA has reported that plants grown with this method "require far less water and fertilizer, don't need pesticide, are much less prone to disease, and grow up to three times faster than plants grown in soil."
Is this really the first flower to be grown in space? Some argue that in 2012 astronaut Don Pettit grew a sunflower, along with a zucchini and broccoli out of ziplock plastic bags while he was in space, and documented the life of his plants in a blog called "Diary of Space Zucchini."
"Plants can indeed enhance long duration missions in isolated, confined, and extreme environments—environments that are artificial and deprived of nature," said Alexandra Whitmire from NASA's Human Research Program.
The hope is that the veggie program and the information learned from growing the zinnias will move the system forward of producing food sustainably in space.
Whitmire said, "Studies from other isolated and confined environments, such as Antarctic stations, demonstrate the importance of plants in confinement, and how much more salient fresh food becomes psychologically, when there is little stimuli around."
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