Hello, and welcome to Gardeners Off World, your round-up of interplanetary news and views. NASA’s Christina Koch returned to Earth yesterday, after spending 328 days onboard the International Space Station (ISS) – the longest single spaceflight by a woman. Koch participated in three expeditions – 59, 60 and 61 – during her first spaceflight. ESA’s Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov came home on the same flight.

During her time on the ISS, Christina worked on the Veggie gardening experiments. In this video, she shows us how the astronauts watered the mizuna growing in VEG-04B:

You can get a better look at the Veggie system in this EuroNews video, in which NASA astronaut Drew Morgan answers the question “Which food plants grow best on the ISS?”

The next commercial supply mission to the ISS (NG-13) is due to launch on Sunday at 22:39 GMT. You can watch the lunch live via NASA TV, where coverage starts at 22:00. One of the experiments launching (as I mentioned last week) will investigate the relationship between cowpeas and their symbiotic partner:

In America, having a tv commercial during the Super Bowl is a BIG THING. This year, for some reason, quite a few of them had a space theme.

Olay’s advert recruited actors Taraji P. Henson, Lilly Singh and Busy Philipps, alongside former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott. Although it’s fun, it has been rightfully derided for portraying female astronauts as complete idiots.

Sodastream does better, with Bill Nye (the science guy) appearing alongside Alyssa Carson (teenage astronaut hopeful) in a mission to find water on Mars and make it fizzy.

And Walmart stuffed their advert full of iconic sci-fi characters:

There is No Planet B. So shop with the Earth in mind with Ethical Superstore.
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NASA’s ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) launched to the ISS in June 2018. It sees the process by which plants lose excess water through pores on their leaves to cool themselves down – evapotranspiration. The space station’s orbit means that the instrument passes over the same areas at different times of the day.

Plants “waking up” near Lake Superior. Red areas began to wake up at around 7 a.m. local time; green spaces awoke around 8 a.m.; and the blue regions, at about 9 a.m. Image credit: NASA JPL

This image combines data collected every morning during a summer season at Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes of North America. The data allowed the mission team to see when plants “wake up” and get going for the day. The earliest risers were near the lake, with plant activity spreading gradually northwestward as the morning progressed.

I love this PBS news story about space-age hydroponics and digital tech being used to feed camels and cattle in Jordan. It’s a project from the UN World Food Program, providing work and increasing food security for Syrian refugees. You can click through to the PBS website if you’d like to read the transcript.

CBC has a great piece about igloo-shaped greenhouses growing food in northern Canada, in a Nunavut community located on the Arctic Circle:

Social anthropologist Savannah Mandel from the American Institute of Physics has written an interesting article from Physics Today on what space scientists can learn from Arctic communities. She posits that, in order to prepare for the social challenges of long-duration space missions and extraterrestrial settlements, researchers should study people who have lived in extreme environments for generations.

“Arctic peoples’ knowledge isn’t a corpus of absolute facts; it’s a suite of cognitive skills that emphasize observing and interacting with the environment. If you have that, you can construct the facts. Inuit go out into the world, they experience, and they collect data—much like scientists.”

University of Florida anthropologist Peter Collings

I’m a bit chuffed because something I wrote for my “day job” has appeared on Phys.org. It’s titled Making Simulated Cosmic Dust in the microwave, and it’s about laboratory astrophysics carried out at the UK’s national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source. Obviously, we can’t just nip out and collect cosmic dust samples, so research like this offers us clues to the early life of the solar system. 

I’ll leave you this week with two stories from the BBC. The medieval knight who went into space tells the story of space tourist Richard Garriott. In October 2008, he became the sixth person to go into space as a paying traveller, spending 12 days on the ISS. His father, Dr Owen Garriott, was a NASA astronaut who went into space twice. In 1973 Owen was the science pilot of the record-breaking 59-day Skylab 3 mission. He spent 10 more days in space, on the space shuttle Columbia, in 1983.

And the BBC has a lovely video of their environmental correspondent Justin Rowlatt camping out in Antarctica, where everything is a chilly struggle, from keeping your feet warm to using the toilet.

That’s it for now. Enjoy life on Planet Earth and I’ll be back next week with a special Valentine’s Edition of GoffW!

Astronaut Christina Koch smiles as she gives a “thumbs up” sign shortly after being extracted from the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship that brought her home after 328 days in space. Credit: NASA TV