Students Take Plants to the Final Frontier

Student-inspired experiments scheduled for the International Space Station

Ever wonder what a mix between Star Wars and Farm Frenzy might look like? Well, BASF wonders too, and they are letting students guide that vision. And that includes travel to the International Space Station, at least for some potential crops.

Botany in microgravity has been a topic of interest for some time. After all, sustaining life in space for prolonged travel requires a source of food, and the most feasible solution on very long missions is to produce it continuously during the trip. The growth process (time requirement and inputs such as nutrients, light and water) must be very efficient to be feasible.

The main extension of this work is to investigate plant growth from cuttings, rather than seed. If you are having a flashback to The Martian, and a sudden craving for potatoes, it is a little different than that, but only a little. The project will look at how roots, sprouts and leaves form from cuttings, which have no root system, in the absence of gravity.

BASF is a major player in agriculture, and this is another step in supporting the future of the industry. BASF also has a commitment to support the next generation of scientists and engineers, and this project is no different.

The project involves the first German school to be accepted into the NASA Educational Program. The Edith Stein School Ravensburg & Aulendorf is a vocational school with a commitment to excellence, and in addition to founding the V3PO student team (Vegetative Vermehrungsfahigkeit Von Pflanzen In Orbit), with whom BASF is partnering, it is also a UNESCO project school.

Although BASF is providing the scientific support, the students, 12th graders, Maria Koch, Raphael Schilling and David Geray, had plenty of work as well. In addition to formulating the concept, they also interned at the BASF Agricultural Center in Limburgerhof in order to learn more about designing the experiments.

This serves as a model for multidisciplinary/interdepartmental collaboration. Industry, government and students combined good ideas with expertise and capability. If they can make this work a success, it will make me feel even more incompetent about growing plants here on Earth.


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Image: NASA