Why NASA is celebrating this photo of a seemingly ordinary zinnia.


The vacuum of space.

Photo by ogunhe/Deviant Art.

A cold, forbidding place where nothing grows.

Photo by Lunar and Planetary Institute/Flickr.

Too many of our best fictional characters have died there.

GIF from “Gravity”/Warner Bros.

GIF from “Star Wars”/20th Century Fox.

GIF from “Armageddon”/Buena Vista Pictures.

But space may have just taken an important first step to rehabilitate its reputation as a stone-cold extinguisher of being.

In a long-overdue public relations move, the infinite void decided to take a break from asphyxiating George Clooney to not only just create, but straight-up foster some life for once.

Specifically, this really awesome-looking zinnia, a type of sunflower.

Photo by Scott Kelly/NASA.

The zinnia was grown by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. It is the first flower ever successfully grown in 55 years of manned space travel.

The crew of the International Space Station has been stepping up its botany game since May of 2014 when the Veggie plant growth facility was installed. The largely automated setup includes clay pods to anchor the plants and facilitate water distribution in the limited gravity environment and artificial light to simulate conditions on Earth. The team started and were eventually successful growing lettuce before turning their attention to the more difficult zinnias.

When Kelly noticed a month into the project that the flowers, “weren’t looking too good,” he radioed ground control for help.

Together, they decided that, rather than depend on the automated system, Kelly would simply take care of the flowers himself, as if he were gardening in his backyard. A team of veggie specialists (NASA, apparently, has a team of veggie specialists) sent Kelly a one-page guide to tell him what problems to look for and how to adjust his watering schedule to correct them, which he used to nurse the plants back to health.

Scott Kelly, artist’s rendering. GIF from “The Martian”/20th Century Fox.

It may seem like a small thing, but successfully growing a flower in space actually helps pave the way for bigger, better space travel in the future.

“The challenging process of growing the zinnias provided an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity, and for astronauts to practice doing what they’ll be tasked with on a deep space mission: autonomous gardening,” NASA wrote in a blog post about Kelly and Lindgren’s botanical breakthrough.

In other words, thanks to the tireless efforts of our astronauts, we are one step closer to the ultimate goal of any forward-looking, post-industrial society: landing Matt Damon on Mars.

GIF from “The Martian”/20th Century Fox.

Let’s go for it, world.



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