Hello! Welcome to Gardeners Off World. This week we’ll start with a musical interlude, as violinist Lindsey Stirling recently performed her song, Artemis, on top of the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center:

And NASA has produced a lovely video showing how technology developed to help plants grow in space is cleaning up mould in the wine industry:

The lack of airflow in space means that the ethylene gas naturally given off by plants can build up quickly. Ethylene is a plant hormone that ripens fruits and ages flowers, and the high levels in space environments caused plants to mature too soon. The Advanced Astroculture (ADVASC) plant growth chamber included technology to remove ethylene – an ethylene scrubber – that doesn’t need filters and doesn’t produce harmful waste products. 

Interior view of the Advanced Astroculture (ADVASC) experiment plant growth chamber showing the emergence of mustard seedlings. Credits: NASA

Back on Earth, that technology is included in the Airocide air purifier, which also removes bacteria, mould, fungi, mycotoxins and viruses, as well as ethylene and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

The mainstream media rushes to publish stories about how the climate emergency is going to affect the things we love the most – coffee, chocolate and wine. Space Cargo Unlimited is using microgravity experiments to find new ways to adapt vines to changing growing conditions. There are six separate experiments included in Mission WISE (Vitis Vinum in Spatium Experimentia), three of which have already launched.

Firstly, a case of Bordeaux wine launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in November 2019. It will remain there to age in space for a year, before returning to Earth for analysis. That experiment is called Complex Micro(μ)-Biological System (CommuBioS).

The second experiment took a shorter trip to space, aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle, in December 2019. ALPHA, exposed vine calluses (which form roots) from Petit Verdot Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties to microgravity for five minutes. As well as collecting research data, ALPHA tested the methodology for future Mission WISE experiments.

View of the containers holding 320 vine canes for a Space Cargo Unlimited mission in March 2020. SPACE CARGO UNLIMITED

Most recently, CRS-20 flew 320 vine canes (40 mm long) to the ISS. The CANES experiment will remain in space for six months. The Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon canes have dormant buds. Kept in the dark at 70-80% humidity and between 0.5 to 8 °C, they won’t need to be watered or fed. 

Three more missions are planned for 2021/22, all looking at the effect of microgravity on bacteria and yeasts: WYBSTUDY, FERMENT and SECONDPRO. 

A potato berry, from which potato seeds are extracted. [Image credit: Lucia Monge]

Another cargo launched on CRS-20 was Sojourner 2020. It’s a canister filled with three layers of polycarbonate pockets. The pockets in the top layer experience microgravity, as it stays still. The other two layers, however, rotate. One spins to recreate lunar gravity and the other Martian gravity. 

Sojourner 2020 is an art project, carrying the work of nine artists into space. One project, “Unearthing Futures: the decolonizing potential of potatoes”, involves 125 true potato seeds. (While most gardeners plant seed potatoes, potato plants do produce berries that contain real seeds. More about true potato seeds.)

The seeds (from six varieties, offspring of a late-blight resistant potato) will remain in orbit for a month before being planted on their return to Earth. This project, a collaboration between Peruvian artist Lucia Monge and Chinese artist/engineer Xin Liu aims to spread a message about an anti-colonial future in space. 

“The artists will create a public installation with the grown potatoes, including sculptures and experimental agriculture, in order to have conversations about how we might responsibly and sustainably manage a future that extends beyond this planet.”

Potatoes in Space

(I am mostly avoiding using the V word, but if you’re worried about the effects of enforced isolation, Interesting Engineering has an article on how astronauts cope with long-term confinement, and a Hi-Seas analog astronaut tells us what she learned about staying sane and passing time. )

Rothera Research Station [Image via Wikimedia]

Atlas Obscura has a couple of articles that are well worth reading this week. The first is about how chefs at the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station in Antarctica keep the team there well-fed and happy, despite only receiving one food delivery a year! 

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which the team longingly refers to as “freshies,” is painfully limited. One warm season, after receiving a shipment of the treasured freshies, [chef] Georgiades took a risk. “It started with an avocado,” he says. He packed up the fresh fruit and shoved it in the freezer. Then he did the same with cherry tomatoes, coriander, and other herbs. Then, months later, Georgiades served guacamole to the Rothera crew. “To see something so green and vibrant does something incredibly good for the soul when you’ve been living off tinned veg for so long.”

The second is a review of a book called Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR. During the Cold War, there were up to 200 popular science magazines in the Soviet Union. They were illustrated with images drawn to educate people and to and promote the Communist project.

Stuck inside? Buy from Hive and support your local bookshop [affiliate link]

“Soviet citizens lived vicariously through such images, and even the more surreal and fantastical visuals—living in space, meeting new life forms—demonstrated that the idea of cultural revolution need not be limited to Earth.”

And I’ll leave you with a disturbing thought: what if the Earth becomes uninhabitable? Kiran Stacey explores the options for interplanetary living – the Moon, Mars or orbiting colonies.