Space Gardening: A flower blooms in International Space Station for the first time

An astronaut for NASA, Scott Kelly, posted a close-up photo of a flower in his Twitter feed (@StationCDRKelly). What so special about the flower is that it's the first flower to bloom in space. The flower-planting is part of an experiment focusing on how astronauts could grow their own food. Previously the experiment also run lettuce-planting and will work towards planting other plants.

The orange flower is known to be a Zinnia, a species related to the family of sunflowers and daisies. The Zinnia is grown in the International Space Station (ISS) by Scott Kelly himself, with the help and support of the NASA team. According to AOL, last month Kelly tweeted a picture of the same plant, although it doesn't look like it's in a good condition and showed some definite signs of stress. But his recent picture shows that the flower blooms after all.

According to CNET, the ISS is conducting an experiment called VEG-01, also popular with the name Veggie. The experiment focuses on raising consumable as well as ornamental plants in space. They seek to study how astronauts can grow their own food for long-term missions in space. Operation Veggie has its own plant growth facility, launched in May of 2014.

So this is not the first plant to grow in space because more than ten years ago the Russians already grew vegetables and peas. In the summer of 2015, Veggie also succeeded in growing lettuce in space. But still, growing a flower in space is considered as a remarkable achievement because flowers' growing duration and flowering make it harder to grow, especially in space. Astronaut Scott Kelly was also involved in the planting of the lettuce in early July last year.

Veggie project manager, Trent Smith said in a statement, as quoted by Fox News, "The zinnia plant is very different from lettuce. It is more sensitive to environmental parameters and light characteristics. It has a longer growth duration between 60 and 80 days. Thus, it is a more difficult plant to grow, and allowing it to flower, along with the longer growth duration, makes it a good precursor to a tomato plant."

The picture Kelly tweeted last Sunday did not take too long to get favorited by netizens for over 11 thousand times. Apparently, the flowers weren't expected to bloom for another 7 to 10 days, so the news came as an excitement even to the team.

The Veggie team expect to move forward in space gardening. The success of growing the zinnia flower is a step forward toward a long-term plan for gardening in space. NASA revealed that future experiments will involve Chinese cabbage, red romaine lettuce, and dwarf tomato plants. 

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