Move over Mark Watney, because NASA astronaut Scott Kelly has just grown the first ever flower in space. Which means… we must now fear his botany powers!
Kelly, a NASA veteran who is currently aboard the ISS for a year-long mission aiming to study the health effects of long-term space flight, took to Twitter to post a picture of the newly bloomed zinnia in all its photosynthesizing orange and green glory.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) January 16, 2016
The “space flower” is the result of NASA’s Vegetable Production System or “Veggie“, which is “a deployable plant growth unit capable of producing salad-type crops to provide the crew with a palatable, nutritious, and safe source of fresh food…” And while the zinnia grown by Kelly probably doesn’t make for the best garnish, it does stand as a good test for growing more fickle organic munchies—like tomatoes. “[Zinnia] is more sensitive to environmental parameters and light characteristics [and also] has a longer growth duration between 60 and 80 days,” said Veggie project manager Trent Smith in a press release.
It also helps to spruce up the ISS, and add a homey touch to the internationally manned craft that maintains an orbital altitude of over 200 miles above Earth’s surface, screaming by at an average speed of over 17,000 miles per hour.
The bloomed zinnia is an important step because it was grown by Kelly aboard the ISS autonomously — he took over most of the care of the flower from the expert team on the ground, and often made decisions about its watering schedule and sunlight levels by himself. This is critical because if humanity is going to send explorers to Mars, they’ll be too far from Earth to receive prompt guidance from terrestrial experts, which means they’ll have to bring their own green thumb to the red planet.
For now, this little zinnia (which you can see more of in the gallery below) stands as proof that it is possible to grow fickle plants in space. And with the discovery of liquid water on Mars, extraterrestrial gardening could one day be possible.
What do you think about the first flower ever grown in space? Are you ready for some kind of space salad, or are you waiting for the star-seared Ahi Tuna? Let us know in the comments section below!
Images: Scott Kelly / NASA