Why The Heck Are We Sending Cotton To Space?


Humans have sent pretty weird things in space, from Buzz Lightyear to Luke Skywalker's lightsaber to a Tesla Roadster. Recently, we even launched sperm. The next bizarre object en route to space? Cotton.

That's right — the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, has confirmed that three projects which aim to improve cotton farming on Earth have been shortlisted for International Space Station experiments.

Each project will get in-orbit access to the ISS National Laboratory and receive hardware-implementation assistance thanks to a collaboration with NASA, CASIS confirmed in a statement.

Cotton Sustainability Challenge

The three projects are part of the Cotton Sustainability Challenge, which gathered proposals on how to improve crop production on Earth. The goal is to come up with potentially more efficient cotton production through more sustainable water use. These proposals will be facilitated in the ISS National Laboratory. 

The first one is called "Field Scale, Aggregated Best Management Practice Verification and Monitoring" by Marshall Moutenot, whose public benefit corporation Upstream has developed a machine learning platform that integrates satellite data to inform different sectors and help them make better decisions around water management.

The second one is called "Unlocking the Cotton Genome to Precision Genetics" by Christopher Saski, whose concept makes use of genetic sequencing to examine cotton cultivars, each of which grows differently in tissue culture on Earth. This could offer new information into the genetics of cotton growth and regeneration, which in turn will allow us to improve our methods of growing cotton plants through efficient water use.

The third one is called "Targeting the Roots of Cotton Sustainability" by Simon Gilroy, who aims to determine which environmental factors or genes affect cotton root-system development. According to him, cotton plants with an overexpressed AVP1 gene are highly resistant to stressors that normally hinder cotton production. He wants to know how gravity plays a role in that process under different circumstances, and the ISS would be the perfect venue for such an experiment.

What's All This For?

The goal of the Cotton Sustainability Challenge is to determine the best way to grow cotton on Earth given that the elements crucial to that process, including water and other natural resources, are at risk because of climate change and other factors.

The proposals listed above hope to not only benefit cotton agriculture, but innovate fundamental knowledge of it. Each project will receive up to a million dollars in funding.

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