Welcome to a special Valentine’s edition of Gardeners off World, where love is definitely in the recycled air!

The Veggie vegetable production system launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2014. After growing two crops of ‘Outredgeous’ space lettuce, it’s next mission (VEG-01C) was to grow a bunch of flowers: the seeds chosen were a five-colour mix of Zinnia ‘Profusion’. Although they hit some problems along the way, Space Gardener Scott Kelly coaxed them into flowering in time for Valentine’s Day 2016:

If you’re in need of a last-minute Valentine’s card – NASA has got you covered! There are Celestial Valentine’s images on their Tumblr you can steal, a galaxy of romantic ecards to send, and even a few printable space Valentines.

And if you’re broken-hearted this Valentine’s Day, you can read a great article from the British Heart Foundation on what heart researchers can learn from astronauts in space.

“Blue and red wavelengths are the minimum needed to get good plant growth,” Wheeler said. “They are probably the most efficient in terms of electrical power conversion. The green LEDs help to enhance the human visual perception of the plants, but they don’t put out as much light as the reds and blues.”

Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at Kennedy Space Center.
Thompson & Morgan are offering 20% off all seeds, plants and bulbs this weekend. Click through to activate the offer, which expires at midnight on Sunday. [Affiliate link]
Dr Braja Mookherjee with the Overnight Scentsation rose plant after its space flight.
[Image credit: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, Publication date 12/1/1998]

Would a rose in space still smell as sweet? That was the question International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), Inc., of New York, set out to answer in October 1998. They partnered with the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR) to modify the ASTROCULTURE (TM) commercial plant research facility to incorporate IFF’s proprietary technology for sampling and analysing essential oils.

They then used it fly a miniature rose (“Overnight Scentsation”) onSpace Shuttle Discovery flight STS-95. Now, this was a fairly special flight for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it returned Mercury astronaut John Glenn to space. Glenn went from being the first American to orbit the Earth to being the oldest person in space. He was 77 at the time and a United States Senator. STS-95 also took the first Spaniard – Pedro Duque – into space.

During the 10 day mission, John Glenn sampled the fragrance of the rose four times. Each sampling produced a different scent, although overall the rose produced less aroma in space than it did on Earth. 

Overnight Scentsation Rose Plant, back on Earth
[Image credit: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, Publication date 12/1/1998]

After the Overnight Scentsation rose plant’s return to Earth, IFF scientists found a significant change in some of the chemical components occurred while in microgravity. The company averaged the four samples and produced an entirely new scent that was definitely not from Earth. They turned it into a new space rose perfume ‘note’, which is included in Shiseido Cosmetics ‘Zen’ perfume.

Astronaut Rex Walheim with a “Tournament of Roses” rose in February 2008. On its return to Earth, the rose was used on a float in the 2009 Rose Parade. [Image credit: NASA]

And while we’re on the topic of space roses, in February 2008 a two-toned pink rose (“Tournament of Roses”) orbited the Earth more than 200 times on space shuttle Atlantis. Lance Walheim, author of “Roses For Dummies” worked with his younger brother – astronaut Rex Walheim – to send the bloom aloft.

Lance air-dried two roses. NASA packed one and stowed it in the shuttle crew cabin, where it remained untouched for the flight. Rex took the second in his personal items so that he would be able to photograph it during the mission. When the roses returned to Earth, one appeared on a float during the annual New Year Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.

“It’s easy to take our home planet for granted, but sit back and enjoy this sequence of stunning images from space and fall in love all over again on Valentine’s Day. These few images show Earth’s splendour, reminding us that, from space, there are no borders – just one planet that is home to us all. We hope these images fill you with love for our world and serve as a little reminder that like the others we love in life, our world needs to be cherished and cared for in order for it to thrive.”

ESA, February 2019

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. It’s a great day to show the love we feel for our home planet! GoffW will return next week.

Valentine Radish