Salad seeds sent to space on the International Space Station (ISS) grow only slightly slower when back on Earth, giving hope for the future of growing food on another planet – most probably, Mars.
The findings come after 2kg of rocket seeds spent six months on board the ISS with British European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut, Tim Peake, as part of his Principia mission. Here they would absorb up to 100 times more radiation than on Earth and be subject to intense vibrations from the stresses and strains of space travel.
When the seeds returned to Earth in 2016, 600,000 children from schools and groups across the UK took part in an experiment, supported by the UK Space Agency, to plant them and monitor their growth, comparing it to that of seeds that had remained on Earth.
The results show that, while the space seeds grew more slowly and were more sensitive to ageing, they were still viable. It suggests that, by taking sensible steps to protect the seeds on their journey, it should be possible to grow plants in space or on another planet for humans to eat.
British ESA astronaut Tim Peake said: “In one of the largest and most inspirational experiments of its kind, more than half a million young people collected reliable data to help the scientists at Royal Holloway investigate the effects of spaceflight on rocket seeds.
“When humans travel to Mars, they will need to find ways to feed themselves, and this research helps us understand some of the biology of seed storage and germination which will be vital for future space missions.”