NASA is taking help from students to decide which crops should be grown in space to expand food options and increase plant diversity.
NASA has been partnering with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami, Florida, for the past few years to encourage student interest in the field of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. The space agency has also partnered with The Fairchild Challenge to help determine which edible plants might be suitable for growth in microgravity aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in the Veggie growth chamber.
The Fairchild Challenge, which is the annual standards-based environmental outreach programme, reaches more than 125,000 students annually.
In order to determine the plants suitable for space, the students test various factors influencing plant growth, flavor and nutrition by using equipment that mimics the environmental conditions aboard the ISS. The data obtained by the students will be used by NASA to determine which plants should be grown in space.
This year, students from the Homeless Families Foundation have also participated in The Fairchild Challenge. The foundation provides housing assistance and educational services for homeless families living in Columbus.
It serves 80 elementary and middle school children with hands-on STEM and problem-solving activities. They trained the students for daily plant upkeep and data collection. The students were also encouraged to record weekly plant measurements throughout the 28-day challenge which were sent into The Fairchild Challenge.
By observing the plants carefully, the students were able to identify that some plants are potentially better suited for the conditions present on the orbiting laboratory, where water is a limited resource.
“All the students participating in the challenge have the ‘right stuff,’ and I really enjoyed seeing all the progress tweets,” NASA’s Trent Smith, Veggie project manager at Kennedy Space Center, said.
Smith added this year it was quite inspiring to see the Homeless Families Foundation students growing plants and collecting data for NASA scientists.