It would be a very flowery New Year on the International Space Station.
Astronauts are experts on many things but are they green thumbs too? NASA reports on Nov. 16, U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren activates the space station's plant growth system and started growing quick-sprouting Zinnia flowers.
For the first time, under the experiment 'Veggie', NASA wanted to explore the possibilities of growing flowers in space. In the first part of the experiment, astronauts were able to grow first and second crops of Outredgeous red romaine lettuce.
— NASA (@NASA) November 16, 2015
Lindgren is tasked to monitor the plant's growth, and manipulate its water and nutrient system. It is expected to grow within 60 days in time for New Year's bloom. If successful, it's the only and first flowering crop to grow in space, according to NASA.
The system has a red, green and blue LED light that needs to be turned on for 10 hours and off for the next 14 hours. This method will help the plants grow flowers.
"Growing a flowering crop is more challenging than growing a vegetative crop such as lettuce. Lighting and other environmental parameters are more critical," Gioia Massa, NASA's payload scientist for Veggie explained.
The experiment will shed light on how living organisms behave in space. This will help in determining if it is possible to have a fresh food source available for astronauts.
On the ISS, astronauts have food sources but most are frozen with preservatives. They may have fresh food supplies every now and then but these don't last long. Having a means to have fresh food will help them stay healthy especially when they embark on longer journeys in the future.
"The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits," Massa said.
They are planning to grow tomato plants on the ISS in 2017.
"Growing the Zinnia plants will help advance our knowledge of how plants flower in the Veggie growth system, and will enable fruiting plants like tomatoes to be grown and eaten in space using Veggie as the in-orbit garden," Trent Smith, Veggie program manager explained.