Fragile Oasis

Connecting Space and Earth: Learn. Act. Make a Difference.

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Astro-Z in Zero-G: The Diary of a Space Zucchini - Part 1

January 5, 2012
I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me. I am not one of the beautiful; I am not one that by any other name instills flutters in the human heart. I am the kind that makes little kids gag at the dinner table thus being sent to bed without their desert. I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini - and I am in space.

January 7
I became aware of my fellow crewmates for the first time. It takes a sprout a few days before grasping your surroundings. One is my gardener who waters my roots every day. I overheard that we are in a spacecraft orbiting Earth and are part of a long space mission. As crew, I am not sure of my role but am ready to contribute what I can.

January 9
I discovered that my roots are bound in a ziplock bag. This bag has a canoe shaped piece of closed cellular foam wedged in the opening that retains the needed moisture. My stem is held in place by a piece of scrap spongy material called pigmat. Used for absorbent packing for spacecraft supplies, pigmat will soak up spillage from liquid containers. It makes a nice transition between the stuffy closed cell foam and my green parts, and will keep nasty mold away from my stem.

This is most definitely not hydroponics; my roots are not submerged in a bag of water. This bag is mostly filled with air and only has a small amount of water neatly tucked in the corners from the action of capillary forces in weightlessness. This is aeroponics, a rather new method for raising plants without soil and without large volumes of water. Only a small amount is needed, just enough to keep my roots at 100 percent humidity and make up for what I drink. My roots are not hermetically sealed in this bag, they have access to gas exchange with the cabin air. My roots are thus exposed in this transparent bag, naked to the universe. Embarrassed, it took me a few days to get over the idea that anyone can see my roots without any dirt covering them.

January 10
I reach for the light. It burns brightly and makes my cotyledons a happy vibrant green. There is a small plastic bag loosely set over my top that keeps the humidity high for my tender new leaves. My roots are another matter. They sense sourness, the kind that makes one want to tip-toe across the floor for fear of getting something on your feet. But for now it does not matter. I am living off the nutrients in my seed pod.

January 12
My cotyledons, like a drogue chute in a parachute deployment sequence, provide the photosynthetic nourishment until my real leaves can form. Now I stretch my first leaf and orient it towards the light. My cotyledons, having served their purpose, will soon wilt. The plastic bag cover was removed by my gardener.

January 14
My gardener fusses with me several times a day. He checks that I have water, light, and with a hypodermic syringe, injects this tea concoction into the ziplock bag. It bathes my roots with a not so tasty drink however it does seem to contain the nutrients I need. I won’t complain; on expeditions into the frontier the food is often this way.

January 15
My gardener fusses with my leaves. I am not sure if I like that. I now have four and I do not quite understand why he behaves this way. He sticks his nose up against them. Does he take me for some sort of a handkerchief? Apparently he takes pleasure in my earthy green smell. There is nothing like the smell of living green in this forest of engineered machinery. I see the resultant smile. Maybe this is one of my roles as a crewmember on this expedition.

Tomorrow: Green, happy and drinking yesterday's coffee?

Want to know more about how plants grow in space? and of course, follow the adventures of Astro-Z in Zero-G on Twitter.