Hello! Welcome to Gardeners off World. The big news for space gardeners this week is that NASA has determined that the salads grown in Veggie are safe to eat. And a team of Russian researchers have developed a prototype for an orbital greenhouse. The Orbital Biological Automatic Module includes smart lighting to accelerate plant growth, specialised hydroponics, automated irrigation and harvesting solutions. It could be heading to the International Space Station (ISS) – “Humanity’s home in Low Earth Orbit” – in the next few years.

Plants cultivated in the TPU autonomous greenhouse. [Image credit: TPU]

“The cultivation area is planned to be 30 m2. Furthermore, its cylindrical shape should help to adapt to different gravity conditions, which enables its use in the distant future, for instance, on the Moon or on Mars.

Another important issue is the selection of necessary and most suitable agricultural crops and their protection against pathogens in microgravity. We offer various types of lettuce, leeks, basil, and other crops for cultivation in the module.”

Aleksei Yakovlev, head of the School of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies at Tomsk Polytechnic University

Magnitude.io’s ExoLab-7 experiment launched to the ISS on NG-13 with cowpea seedlings (Vigna unguiculata) inoculated with the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Rhizobium leguminosarum. It aims to investigate a biological solution to fertilising plants in space, as sending soil and fertilisers off-world would be too expensive.

A network of students and teachers from across North America, Europe, and Africa have analog ExoLabs in their classrooms. They began comparing their ground-based data with data from the in-orbit experiment last week.

“In addition to critical science supporting human space exploration, this experiment will also serve as an analog to climate change on Earth, with the elevated temperatures and high levels of carbon dioxide onboard the ISS. Legumes like Vigna are important food crops here on Earth and are one of the food crops being considered to support human space exploration.

The variety of Vigna chosen for this experiment, called Lady Cowpea, is small in size compared with other varieties of Vigna and is noted for its tolerance to heat, consistent growth, and high productivity. Built by Space Tango, the ExoLab sent to the ISS has a volume of approximately two liters and houses three Vigna seedlings—two experimental treatments and one control treatment.”

ISS360: The ISS National Lab Blog

While the beans are just getting started on the ISS, in the Netherlands it’s harvest time for the Martian and Moon beans fertilised with human urine.

While just a handful grew in the unfertilised pots, more than 2 kg (4.4 lbs) of beans were harvested from the pots containing struvite. No one will be tucking into that harvest, however. The human urine used in the experiment was collected from festival-goers in Amsterdam and turned into a sterile fertiliser called struvite. But it’s not currently licensed for use on edible crops; there’s a slight issue that it might be contaminated with the residue of narcotics ingested by the party people. 

“Even though we know now that is almost 100 per cent pure and it is safe to use. We are waiting for legislation. I would eat it though, but am not allowed, and as a scientist, I should wait for the official approval.”

Dr Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University, via The Telegraph
Get free delivery on plants, seeds and bulbs from Thompson & Morgan this weekend. [Affiliate link]
Axiom’s home from home for space tourists [Image credit: Axiom/Philippe Starck]

NASA has recently unveiled a design for space modules that would house private citizens. NASA partnered with Texas-based startup Axiom Space and French-born designer Philippe Starck, and the first modules could be in place on the ISS by 2024.

The interior looks a bit like an upmarket padded cell, to keep the amateur astronauts comfy as they adjust to zero-g. Each module will have large windows, so residents can enjoy the view, and high-speed wi-fi so they can Instagram it every five minutes.

If you fancy making the trip, better start saving your pennies. Axiom’s space tourism program will offer 10-day expeditions for just £41 million ($55 million) per ticket. You’ll also need to make a window in your schedule for the 15-week training experience.

🦠 Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is the first single-cell green algae data to be submitted to NASA GeneLab’s Data Repository….

Posted by NASA Space Biology on Thursday, 13 February 2020

And China is planning the maiden launch of its new Long March 5B rocket in April. It has been designed to carry a space station and large crewed spacecraft into orbit. More than 10 launches will be needed to complete China’s third space station, which has a scheduled completion date in 2022. It will be shaped like a T, with lab capsules on either side of a core module called Tianhe.

China launched its first space station, Tiangong-1, in 2011. It was deorbited in 2018. Its successor, Tiangong-2, was designed to support longer missions. Launched in 2016, it was deorbited in 2019. 

If you’ve got four minutes spare, you should watch BBC Reel’s film on Spain’s Otherworldy Red River. It’s about the Rio Tinto, and its similarities to Mars.

And lastly, for this week, GoffW is eagerly awaiting the launch of CRS-20, the latest SpaceX supply mission to the ISS. It’s scheduled to take off at 04:50 GMT Saturday morning (which is 23:50 EST Friday in the US). It has caused quite a stir because it will be carrying coffee and hemp (Cannabis sativa) cell cultures, to investigate zero gravity’s effects on the plants’ metabolic pathways.

Up to 480 plant cell cultures will be kept in an incubator that regulates temperature for around 30 days. Once they are returned to Earth, analysis of the cells will show how microgravity and exposure to space radiation have affected the gene expression of the plants.

“These are big ideas we’re pursuing, and there’s a massive opportunity to bring to market new plants that can better adapt to drought and cold conditions. We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change.”

Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells, via Newsweek

CRS-20 will deliver two more plant experiments to the ISS. The Biological Research in Canisters-Light Emitting Diode-002 (BRIC-LED)-002 investigation will use the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to test how spaceflight affects the plant’s ability to defend itself against pathogens.

And VEG-PONDS-3 is the latest in a series of experiments using lettuce crops to test a new watering system for Veggie that should allow astronauts to grow larger plants in the future.

Grow your own space lettuce! Outredgeous seeds are available from Suttons in the UK
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