Once Elon Musk gets his way and Mars is colonized, it’s looking like our flowerbeds may be full of zinnias. The orange edible flower is officially the very first to be grown in space and thanks to U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, we can see it from Earth in all of its splendor. The spaceman uploaded the cool picture above to his Instagram account over the weekend, writing, “First ever flower grown in space makes its debut!” He quickly followed his post up with a second one, saying, “Yeah, there are other life forms in space!”
Grown on the International Space Station, the crop of zinnia flowers has been pulled off in microgravity due to some pretty clever autonomous gardening developed by NASA’s Veggie program. Farmed using “pillows” full of seeds, fertilizer, water and clary, the flowers get artificial sun through LED lights. “While the plants haven’t grown perfectly,” said Dr. Gioia Massa, NASA science team lead for Veggie, on NASA’s recent blog update. “I think we have gained a lot from this, and we are learning both more about plants and fluids and also how better to operate between ground and station. Regardless of final flowering outcome we will have gained a lot.”
A photo posted by Scott Kelly (@stationcdrkelly) on Jan 16, 2016 at 1:36pm PST
The flowers are more difficult to produce than lettuce (which was the first crop to grow in the orbiting laboratory that was installed in Mary 2014) and were chosen to help scientists learn how plants and flowers grow in microgravity. “The zinnia plant is very different from lettuce,” said Trent Smith, Veggie project manager. “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.”
Despite some issues with mold and over-drying, it seems like the Veggie program is a success—even without the help of Mark Watney, Matt Damon’s character in The Martian.