No Gravity Required

This is good news for space settlement:

The scientists ran their experiment on Arabidopsis plants—a go-to species for plant biologists. The control group was germinated and grown at the Kennedy Space Center (A), while the comparative group was housed on the International Space Station (B). For 15 days, researchers took pictures of the plants at six-hour intervals and compared them. Their results surprised even them: the plants in space exhibited the same growth patterns as those on Earth.

The researchers were looking for two specific patterns of root growth: waving and skewing. With waving, the root tips grow back and forth, much like waves. Skewing occurs when a plant’s roots grow at an angle, rather than straight down. Scientists don’t know exactly why these root behaviors occur, but gravity was thought to be the driving force for both.

So much for that theory. This means the potential for fresh food at ISS, if you’re a vegetarian (or even if not). They should be learning how to do weightless hydroponics. Of course, we still don’t know if animals, and particularly humans, can gestate, or how, and that’s true of partial gravities as well. And we’re not likely to until SSI gets funding for its variable-gravity lab.

29 thoughts on “No Gravity Required

  1. Dennis Wingo

    They proved a lot of this same stuff on the Shuttle over 20 years ago. They proved it on Skylab before that. We had a kid do a plant growth experiment using magnets to direct root growth on GAS-503 in the late 1990′s.

  2. Martijn Meijering (@mmeijeri)

    Ask and you shall receive:

    Station Investigation to Test Fresh Food Experience

    With all the prepackaged gardening kits on the market, an exceptionally green thumb isn’t necessary to grow your own tasty fresh vegetables here on Earth. The same may hold true for U.S. astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station when they receive a newly developed Vegetable Production System, called VEGGIE for short, set to launch aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule on NASA’s third Commercial Resupply Services mission next year.

  3. Al

    The only part that astonishes me is how long it’s taken for this experiment to be performed.

    It’s pure-science uber-alles types all the way down.

  4. Godzilla

    Well if the genus is related to cabbage and mustard and if those grow well too it could be pretty interesting. Canola is one of the highest oil yielding plants.

    1. Godzilla

      PS: Seemingly they already tried growing Canola in 1996 in the Columbia space shuttle and it did fine.

    2. Rand Simberg Post author

      Unfortunately, canola, like most seed oils, turns out to be not that great for you, from an omega 6 standpoint. They need to learn how to grow olives.

        1. Rand Simberg Post author

          What a compelling argument. I don’t know what measures you’re using.

          Actually, I’ve gone back to lard and butter.

          And if McDonald’s would go back to frying fries in tallow, they’d be both healthier, and taste better.

      1. Godzilla

        Sure but growing trees in space is probably going to be a lot more difficult. Of course all of this could be obsoleted by synthetic food no matter how unpalatable it may be.

  5. Daver

    This study was just looking at root growth, wasn’t it? They ought to try growing stuff that can be eaten.

  6. ken anthony

    It really is ridiculous how little we get for our space tax dollar.

    A private colony would have the motivation to make about a years worth of observations every week… and the food would be much better.

    Concentrate on quality of life and science goes along for the ride.

      1. Peterh

        One form of aquaculture uses a nutrient rich mist on the roots. A gentle vacuum could keep the mist from spreading out the hole.

    1. wodun

      I have no idea, maybe remove the water into a separate reservoir and anesthetize the fish so they don’t flop around. But fish are nutritious, easy to raise, and an efficient use of space over other animals.

      There haven’t been many experiments with fish in micro gravity. I am not sure if any of them looked at reproductive life cycle development issues. IIRC they did show that fish adapt to life in space and orient up/down with a light.

      Maybe it would be easier on the Moon.

    2. Martijn Meijering (@mmeijeri)

      Water is also very dense, which doesn’t help with keeping mass down. On the other hand, dual use as radiation shielding could help.

  7. Rick C

    ” Of course, we still don’t know if animals, and particularly humans, can gestate, or how, and that’s true of partial gravities as well.”

    I would swear in the 90s they did a shuttle experiment with mice embryos or something and discovered there’s a period during which without gravity the spinal cord doesn’t completely form.

    1. Rick C

      This might be part of it: http://www.genengnews.com/keywordsandtools/print/3/23974/

      “In one experiment he and his colleagues used a model of stem cell development: mouse embryoid bodies that on earth form a sphere containing patches of differentiated cells such as neurons and muscle cells. “Everything went okay on the ground,” he said of the earth-bound controls, “but failed almost completely in space, as the embryoid body cells did not differentiate, failing to express normally 45 out of 52 differentiated tissue markers from mesoderm, endoderm, and ectoderm lineages, and continued to express stem cell markers such as Sox1 and Sox2.””

      1. ken anthony

        If something works at one g and fails at zero g we know that somewhere between it fails 50% of the time. I’d guess that point is a lot closer to zero g than one g.

        If we know when that failure is likely to happen a centrifuge would mitigate.

        1. Daver

          In Niven’s Known Space series the belters had a spun-up asteroid where the women would spend their pregnancy. Lunar and Mars colonies could have centrifuges if necessary. Large centrifuges–women wouldn’t need coriolis effects piled on top of morning sickness.

  8. Gary C Hudson

    While this work is encouraging, plants aren’t vertebrates. I am continually amazed that people who want to colonize Mars (or the Moon) don’t pay more attention to the only thing they can’t fix: G.

    1. Daver

      Of course, they could fix G if they had to–they could build the colony in a centrifuge. Neither Mars nor Moon dust are likely to be too kind to a centrifuge. It’d be nice to know if we had to or not, but NASA hasn’t built a variable g lab to find out.

      1. ken anthony

        Remember that mars has two things that would make a large centrifuge easy. Lot’s of iron for rails and little wind resistance for speed. The byproduct of a fast moving train is lots of course dust ground into powder.

        The thing is, martians are going to learn first hand what it takes to live in that environment. Most of our speculation will seem silly to them. What humans have always done is adapt but not so much like bacteria that adapts to its environment… we adapt the environment to us.

        In adapting, they will create a new culture. Freeze dried food might be more common for example.

        1. Daver

          My guess is that it would be easier to build the centrifuge in orbit than on the planet. Ringworld around Phobos? I should crunch the numbers to find the required tensile strength. Probably prohibitive.

          1. ken anthony

            Even with plentiful SSTO the population is going to grow faster than centrifuges able to service them. Assuming you don’t have to stop the centrifuge to get on and off it does have an energy advantage.

            But why create boogy monsters. 0.38g may be fine.

          2. Daver

            Agreed. There were stories back in the early days of the space age where the authors proposed that not having to fight gravity would lengthen life span. We just don’t know, and aren’t likely to find out any time soon.

        1. ken anthony

          Why bother…

          Because it pays for everything being real estate. Because that mass that causes gravity is useful for making things and is in walking distance (but they’ll use trucks.) Because 0.38g may be good enough for health. Because if smart, each individual will be able to pursue their own happiness with plentiful resources.

          On ship you have a captain (it ain’t you, in all probability) and we know zero g is bad for health. That ship will have to spend fuel and many weeks looking for resources or depend on other ships to retrieve them (giving power over you to those ships.) Commerce is a lot trickier (and less profitable) when you have to dock to do it.

          I do however look forward to a time when commerce does advance to the point where individuals can profitably engage in economic activities with their own ships and have many places to visit.

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