• Question: Do tomatoes grow in space?

    Asked by epic_ginger to Anthea, Chloe, Kevin, Sean on 19 Nov 2014.
    • Photo: Chloe Kinsella

      Chloe Kinsella answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      No, but Soybean plants are grown in the International space station (also called the ISS- a satellite that astronauts can stay and work in that is found in Earths Orbit)

      In 1984, tomato seeds were brought into space and left in the ISS for six years. Without food or soil, the seeds remained as they were, and did not grow into plants. The seeds were returned to Earth and given out to schools across the USA and Canada. Schools had to run their own experiments, comparing if space seeds would grow any differently to regular tomato seeds. The results were that space seeds grow just as well as normal seeds.

      Experts in space travel plan to grow plants such as rice and wheat in the ISS next. These plants will provide wholesome nourishment to the astronauts and can be used to purify water through evaporation from their leaves. There is also psychological value for the astronauts, they enjoy looking after the plants and the plants reminds them of their home, Earth.

    • Photo: Sean Kelly

      Sean Kelly answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      If you mean out in space and not inside a spacecraft, then no. Plants like tomato plants need soil to grow in, from which they take food and water, which they can’t get in space. They also need sunlight to survive, and while there’s lots of sunlight in space the suns rays would be so strong that they would kill the plant. Plants also need air with lots of CO2 to survive, which again they cannot get in space.

      However, they might be able to grow tomato plants and others inside spacecrafts. Scientists are currently trying this and in March they tried to grow lettuce on board the International Space Station (although I can’t find any information on whether they were successful or not). NASA actually brought millions of tomatoes seeds to space before, keeping them in a safe place aboard the station for 6 years (just storing the seeds, not trying to grow them). They then brought the seeds back to Earth and they grew into perfect plants with tasty tomatoes! This tells us that space travel and the conditions probably wont damage the seeds. Growing plants in aboard spacecraft is really interesting as plants could potentially clean the water for the astronauts, give them food and provide them with free oxygen. This could be really important and useful for long term space travel (e.g. trips to Mars) or even colonising and surviving in new areas.

    • Photo: Kevin Healy

      Kevin Healy answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      I think Chloe and Sean have covered almost everything. Any plant must be inside a spaceship with enough water, air, heat and light to grow. There is one thing that is very hard to replace though and that is gravity. Gravity is important as during the first stage of growth from a seedling gravity tells the plant which way is up. This means it grows its roots and stalks the right way.
      Maybe plants with no stalk like lettuce grow better in space then plants with long stalks like tomatoes? Im sure this is probably a very intresting questions for NASA!