The idea of growing plants in outer space may seem like the beginning of a fictional and futuristic sci-fi novel, but in 2016, nothing is impossible. The first flower to grow in a U.S. Space Station has officially been revealed to us, and everyone is imagining the implications of "life beyond Earth." But before we get too far ahead into the future, let's start at the beginning: just a few days ago, astronaut Scott Kelly — an Expedition 46 commander — tweeted a photo of the "first flower grown in space." The project began a while back in an effort to create vegetation on the International Space Station. They ran into some hiccups along the way, but lo and behold: the first flower has officially been grown. It's in full bloom and looks very beautiful, but perhaps the coolest thing of all is the fact that an astronaut was able to tweet us updates! Welcome to the 21st century!
The flower is a zinnia, and was planted around the Veggie Plant Growth System, which is a system currently located in the International Space Station. The project to grow a flower began a few months ago, back in November, but ran into trouble when the caretakers didn't abide by the strict procedural guidelines of how to interact with the plant seeds. As it turns out, being too robotic or regulated with plant life actually doesn't help it grow. Long story short: it almost killed the zinnias, but Scott Kelly was able to refute the procedure and actually get the plants to grow his own way. Hey, it's hard work to vegetate in space!
Referencing The Martian, Kelly addressed the veggie ground team by posting the following:
“You know, I think if we’re going to Mars, and we were growing stuff, we would be responsible for deciding when the stuff needed water. Kind of like in my backyard, I look at it and say ‘Oh, maybe I should water the grass today.’ I think this is how this should be handled.”
Essentially, he felt as though the plants would better be able to grow if he could care for them as is needed, not based on a "system," or step-by-step guide. They're living things, not robots, after all. After his idea, the team published a one-page cheat sheet called "The Zinnia Care Guide for the On-Orbit Gardener." It was only after this that he was able to grow the Zinnias to full bloom.
However, some people are bringing up one problem with Kelly's claim, and it's that the Zinnia isn't technically the first flower ever grown in space. According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, the first to do so was the Soviet Union in 1982.
In 1982, the then Soviet Union’s Salyut-7 space station crew grew some Arabidopsis on board. During their 40-day lifecycle, they became the first plants to flower and produce seeds in the zero gravity of space.
But regardless of who got there first, the truth is that what we're really measuring is who grew the flower themselves, as we know, vegetation (and water! and small forms of life!) do exist outside of our Earth. Perhaps the really amazing part of all this is that we're able to receive live updates via Twitter (from, uh, outer space). Ain't technology grand?