US astronaut Scott Kelly has tweeted the stunning pictures of the first flower grown at the International Space Station (ISS). The first flower is an edible zinnia that is consumable and can be used in salads.
Kelly uploaded the image on his official twitter account and soon the image went viral on the social media receiving more than 20k retweets and 28k favourites.
Zinnia plants come under the family of sunflower tribe and are native to scrub and dry grassland in an area stretching from the Southwestern United States to Sout America. The plant was grown inside the Veggie laboratory installed on the ISS. The lab was setup back in May 2014 while astronauts started growing the flowers 3 months back.
The zinnia plant takes nearly 60 to 80 days to bloom and its growth increases in later days. Since, it is difficult to grow zinnia plant in the Space, thus scientists believe that it can be a good precursor to a tomato plant and growing tomatoes in space will take much less efforts.
Plants use sunlight during photosynthesis to cook their food but the sunlight was absent in the ISS so researchers used red, blue and green LED lights to replace the sunlight. The entire journey was not so smooth as it looks in the first glimpse, astronauts aboard ISS once noticed water seeping out of the leaves which could have led to failure of the project. However, they used fans to dry the excess the moisture and gradually health of those Zinnia plants improved. Two plants died in the battle.
It was January 8 when newly grown buds turned into flowers that appeared similar to those grown on our motherland. However, there was some difference due to zero gravity in the Space which led to curled edges of the petals.
“Growing zinnia plants will help advance our knowledge of how plants flower in the Veggie growth system, and will enable fruiting plants like tomatoes to be grown and eaten in space using Veggie as the in-orbit garden,” Trent Smith, Veggie project manager at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida stated in a press release.
After successfully growing zinnia flowers, astronauts will not sit idle and they will try to grow Chinese cabbage, remain lettuce and dwarf tomatoes before the manned mission to Mars scheduled in 2018.
Scott Kelly is longest living astronaut on the ISS in the history of space and he has spent 476 days in space by January 17. On October 16, Kelly completed 383 days in space and became the longest living man in space by breaking the record of US astronaut Mike Fincke who had spent 382 cumulative days. Kelly is also the record holder of consecutive days spent in space. With his 216th consecutive days in space on October 29, Scott Kelly surpassed astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria’s record for the single longest spaceflight (215 consecutive days) by an American.
Kelly’s space run will continue till March 3, 2016, and if everything goes according to plan then by that time he would have spent a total of 522 days in space spanned over four missions. Kelly has been subject to an experiment which is analysing the effects of space over humans and the data obtained will be used in the future space missions.