Students helping NASA decide which plants to grow in space

New York: Not only scientists with advanced degrees but students are also helping NASA decide what crops to grow in space to expand food options and increase plant diversity.

For the past couple of years, NASA has been partnering with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami, Florida, to encourage student interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, Amanda Griffin from NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, wrote in a blog late on Saturday.

NASA partners with The Fairchild Challenge — an annual standards-based environmental outreach programme which reaches more than 125,000 students annually — to help determine which edible plants might be suitable for growth in microgravity aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in the Veggie growth chamber.

Using equipment that mimics the environmental conditions aboard the ISS, students test factors that may influence plant growth, flavour and nutrition. NASA will use students’ data to determine which plants to begin growing in space.

This year, the Homeless Families Foundation — that provides housing assistance and educational services for homeless families living in Columbus — added its students’ talents to The Fairchild Challenge.

After school and during the summer, the foundation serves 80 elementary and middle school children with hands-on STEM and problem-solving activities.

The students are trained and are responsible for daily plant upkeep and data collection. Throughout the 28-day challenge, they also recorded weekly plant measurements.

Through careful observation, students were able to identify that some plants are potentially better suited for the conditions present on the orbiting laboratory, where water is a limited resource.

“All the students participating in the challenge have the ‘right stuff,’ and I really enjoyed seeing all the progress tweets,” NASA’s Trent Smith, Veggie project manager at Kennedy Space Center, was quoted as saying.

“This year it was especially inspiring for me to see our team of students associated with the Homeless Families Foundation growing plants and collecting data for our NASA scientists,” Smith added.