Welcome to Gardeners Off World, your weekly round-up of all that’s fresh in space gardening. 

Snoopy has been going into space since the Apollo program, and now he’s tackling the brave new world of streaming video. “Snoopy in Space” is available on Apple TV+ and follows Snoopy as he pursues his dream of becoming an astronaut. There’s even an episode where Snoopy and Woodstock tend a garden on the ISS.

“I try to be a responsible dog owner, but no one ever tells you what to do when your dog sneaks into a secure government facility so he can try to be an astronaut.”

Charlie Brown, via collectSPACE
NASA astronaut Jessica Meir dines on fresh Mizuna mustard greens
[Image: NASA]

On the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch have been harvesting mizuna leaves from the Veg-04B garden. Half of the crop was set aside for crew tasting, with the other half tucked away in the science freezer. It will be returned to Earth for analysis. 

Earlier this month, GoffW watched as a spacecraft designated NG-12 blasted off to the ISS. It was carrying the first zero-g oven, which is set to bake the first cookies in space (and uses just 84 watts to do it!). That momentous event has happened yet, but it’s getting closer:


Also on that flight were tomato seeds, which the First the Seed Foundation (FTSF) have sent aloft as part of their Tomatosphere program. The aim is to recruit the next generation of astronauts, scientists and engineers that will develop the technology for farming in space.

“Since 2001, the award-winning Tomatosphere™ program has done just that. An estimated 3 million students in Canada and the United States have helped researchers gather data to address these questions while learning about science, space exploration, agriculture and nutrition. Tomatosphere™ provides students with two sets of tomato seeds: one set that has been exposed to space or space-simulated environments, and one that has not been exposed but serves as a control group for comparison.”


The program sent 600,000 tomato seeds to the ISS in 2013, where they stayed for 9 months. There was another seedy launch in 2017. Up until now, the tomato seeds have stayed safely inside the ISS. This time, some of the seeds will be going outside, on the Alpha Space MISSE test platform. Those seeds “will be exposed to conditions that have never before been studied by the Tomatosphere program, including direct sunlight, radiation, pressure, temperature extremes, and more”, according to the American Seed Trade Association.

Chris Hadfield with 600,000 tomato seeds for the Tomatosphere™ project, which returned to Earth with Hadfield in May 2013 after orbiting Earth for 9 months aboard the space station.
[Image credits: Canadian Space Agency/NASA]

I love this TED talk from an astrobiologist who is learning how to look for life on Mars by exploring the driest place on Earth – the Atacama Desert. He has discovered places where it hasn’t rained in 400 years and a new species of algae that uses spiderwebs to catch fog!

On the other hand, astrobiologists studying Ethiopia’s inhospitable Danakil Depression have discovered some pools where conditions are just too extreme for life.

You might think it would be hard to grow crops in the Arctic, but Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson is a gardener bringing new life to ancient foods with Arctic agriculture. (And she does it in a lovely NASA t-shirt!)

“Hopson has developed her own breed of agriculture that incorporates Alaska Native plants like stinkweed and a high tunnel she installed in 2016. Some of her recipes mix traditional and western plants, like pesto made with mashu or Eskimo potato.”

Alaska Public Media

(Note that that’s mashu, Hedysarum alpinumand not the Andean mashua – Tropaeolum tuberosum. I think the “stinkweed” is Artemisia tilesii, also known as “Caribou leaf”.)

NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) is used as an analog for future exploration-class missions.

BBC Click has a short video about HERA, NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog. NASA uses HERA to find out how people cope with the demands of long space missions. Each crew of four spends 45 days in a habitat that simulates a mission to Phobos, a Martian moon.

NASA’s Always Seeking the Next HERA Crew. Could it Be You?

Astronauts (including NASA’s Jessica Meir) on ESA’s underground astronaut training course CAVES during their six-night underground expedition, July 2016.

ESA has a slightly different approach to analog missions, sending people deep into the bowels of the Earth. Their CAVES (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills) missions send ‘cavenauts’ to live underground for six days. They’re tasked with exploring, mapping and conducting scientific experiments – and coming back in one piece!

Artists Ella Good and Nicki Kent are building their version of a Martian house in Bristol UK. Everyone is invited to take part – from school children to rocket scientists. 
IKEA gardening supplies in the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS)

And IKEA has been redecorating at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS). An IKEA team stayed in the analog environment two years ago, to experience shared small space living and discover how that might be relevant to urban life in megacities. Having evaluated that experience, interior designer Christina Levenborn returned with carefully-selected products, to test how they can be used in this extreme “home” and how they can be improved.”

“We always want to test and improve our range, and from MDRS, we hope to learn more about living in extremely small spaces and how our products can be used. There is also knowledge to gain about the scarcity of material, repurposing and sustainable living. Preparing for this kind of scarcity on Mars puts a focus on all the good things we have on Earth that we take for granted.” 

Christina Levenborn, IKEA Today

And I’ll leave you today with a plan to build a network of biomes in the Mojave Desert. Interstellar Lab wants to further research about how to live on Mars, while also applying those lessons to creating more sustainable communities on Earth. The terrestrial village will be called Experimental Bioregenerative Station, or EBios. 

GoffW will return on Thursday for a special Thanksgiving edition. Enjoy your week on Earth, and I will see you then!