Welcome to my new weekly round-up of the most exciting interplanetary gardening news!

The big news in space this week is that NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir have completed the first all-female spacewalk. Not the first spacewalk by a woman, of course. It’s just the first time a multi-person spacewalk has featured only women on the roster.

[It was supposed to take place in March 2019, but rather embarrassingly had to be postponed because they didn’t have the right-sized spacesuits on board.]

Christina Koch working on VEG-04B.
Image: NASA

The spacewalk was all about replacing batteries or blah blah blah, but back inside the ISS Christina Koch was doing some gardening. The Veggie growth system is currently running investigation Veg-04B, exploring the effects of light quality and fertiliser on mizuna, as well as microbial food safety, nutritional value and the taste acceptability. Christina was thinning out the seedlings, leaving the most robust specimens to grow.

Yesterday the Design Museum in London opened their new Moving to Mars exhibition, which will run until February 23 2020. It’s designed to be an immersive experience, allowing you to step into a full-scale Mars home, explore the untouched beauty of the Martian landscape and “learn how rethinking daily life for a zero-waste, clean energy-powered civilisation might help future generations on Earth.” You can see hydroponic veg in action, or check out a Martian fashion show.

The exhibition has received plenty of press, including reviews from NewScientist and the Guardian.

If you can’t make it to London, then you can have a virtual Mars-like experience, courtesy of Google. Earlier this year, Google visited a Mars analog site in the Canadian arctic and added it to Google Earth and StreetView. Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island in the world and has some distinctly Mars-like qualities. EarthSky has some links to excellent places to start exploring, such as Astronaut Canyon.

Speaking of analogs, CNN has a lovely deep dive on life in Concordia station in Antarctica: To Antarctica and Beyond. It focuses on an ESA biomedical researcher, though, so there’s nothing about growing food in the Antarctic.

Manipulating Mont Blanc, by George Bradford-Smith

There is a greenhouse inside the proposed new ESA astronaut training facility on Mont Blanc designed by George Bradford-Smith. Designed to prepare astronauts for life in a Martian colony, with “an uneven rock-like facade around which the astronauts must climb in and out to conduct their daily tasks.” There’s a room with wind tunnels to mimic the freezing temperatures on Mars and one that replicated the low rumbles of the Martian wind. There’s even a room with no external noise at all, to mimic what Mars sounds like when the wind isn’t blowing.

NASA has awarded Purdue University scientist Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi a grant to “understand the effects of spaceflight and simulated microgravity on plant defence responses”.

She’ll be sending three sets of Moneymaker* tomatoes to the Advanced Plant Habitat on the International Space Station (ISS). One will be an immune-compromised mutant, one will be given a hormone that boosts plant defences, and the third will be a normal control plant. An identical set of plants will remain on Earth to grow in a low-gravity simulation.

“There’s evidence that microgravity may alter cell walls, and we know that the cell walls are barriers to plant pathogens. These experiments will tell us a lot about the differences in how spaceflight affects the expression of genes related to plant defenses.” she says.

The launch date for the space tomatoes is tbc. In the meantime, Portland State University biology professor Ken Stedman wants to kick-start the search for “living” in space or on other worlds – astrovirology.

But NASA is more interested in Moon water.

Lastly, Virgin Galactic and UnderArmour showed off their new spacesuits for space tourists in a stunning dance video. They’re for people who will be staying inside the spacecraft, of course, which means they’re far more stylish than the utility wear NASA has designed for Moonwalkers on the Artemis mission.

The Virgin Galactic suit looks like it would be better for space gardening, don’t you think? See you next week for another cosmic edition of Gardeners Off World!

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