Fragile Oasis

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

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From the Diary of a Space Zucchini: Fresh Air

March 20
There was a time where I had no memory; I thought this must be the Great Compost. Since waking I heard Gardener talking to me about what happened. We were transplanted once again into new plastic bags. Our stems and roots were trimmed. Our water diet was replaced with a new tea, one that is not salty. Our roots are happy drinking this new concoction. It is actually quite pleasant and is free from that sour taste. It makes me smile. I noticed that Sunflower and Broccoli are still with us and we are all part of the crew. We may be leafless stalks but are sprouting new tiny leaf-buds. They are a vibrant green and brought a smile to Gardener’s face. Did I notice a small bit of water in the corner of his eyes? Oh the magic in a topical meristem. Plants have an incredible capacity to regenerate, something that Gardener says he cannot do. I have a meristem on top that generates new leaves and a meristem below that generates new roots. As long as these meristems live, we can regenerate ourselves. There are perils when you explore, when you venture off into the space frontier. You go into the unknown where the answers are no longer in the back of the book. You observe, thus gathering new knowledge to share with all those plants that remain firmly root-bound on the Earth. And sometimes the price is paid with leaf and stem.

March 21
We are getting stronger every day. Both my meristems are generating new leaves and roots. Sunflower and Broccoli are too. Soon, we will be ready to carry on our duties as active crew. This new tea is actually quite nice, my roots are happy. I wonder what the new tea is made from?

March 22
I overheard my gardener talking to his crewmates about the new tea. He was reluctant to say how it was made. He said it was an ancient recipe.

March 23
We are recovering, growing greener every day. I still only have only four tiny leaves but am able to return to my crew duties. Sunflower grows his leaves in pairs and now has two. Broccoli is in the best shape with a bunch of new leaves coming out. For such a weak sproutling, he is one tough crewmate. It is good to have him along.

March 24
We got a radio call from my gardener’s gardener at 03:50, which woke everyone from a deep Saturday morning sleep. A piece of space junk, an old rocket body, was on a possible collision course with our spaceship. All hands on alert!

We had to prepare for an emergency evacuation. The chance of a collision was small but would be devastating so we had to prepare. As a precaution, we closed every hatch on our spaceship leading up to where our escape capsule was docked. This took about half an hour. When closing the last hatch leading from the Laboratory module, I volunteered to stay behind with Sunflower and Broccoli. We may be sporting small leaves but we are here standing tall, ready to do our job. Somebody had to stay behind to take care of the spaceship.

Gardener (Don Pettit), Commander Burbank and the rest of the human crew closed all the hatches on the International Space Station before taking shelter in their Soyuz spacecraft. Broc, Sunflower and I stayed behind.

With all the hatches closed and the ventilation turned off, it became real quiet, and stuffy too. In weightlessness, there is no buoyancy driven convection thus the cabin air remains stagnant. The droning of fans operating 24 hours a day are required to keep the air stirred and of uniform composition. I have heard Gardener say that when working behind a rack or some confined place where there is no circulation, a pocket of carbon dioxide can build up and give him a headache. Sometimes he will set up a small portable fan when working in such a place. He should take Sunflower, Broccoli, or me with him and perhaps he would not need the fan. Thus sealed in the Laboratory module for the collision safe haven, there was no air movement of any kind and we felt the oxygen building up around our leaves. If this lasted too long we might suffocate for lack of carbon dioxide. The space junk passed without hitting us. When my crew opened the hatch and ventured back into the module, we were able to greet them with a small breath of fresh air.

Follow the adventures of @Astro_Zuc on Twitter. He may be a zucchini, but he's been known to spill the beans.