Okay, so we don’t have the zero gravity of a spaceship. But that didn’t stop Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens from coming to the aid of NASA by drafting students from 120 Miami-Dade schools to test possible food plants for deep space. The program, which has expanded to include another 30 schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Ohio and Puerto Rico, has now tried 106 veggies. Of those, four are currently being tested at the Kennedy Space Center, all varieties of Chinese cabbage and Japanese mustard greens.
“It’s citizen science, but it’s citizen science at its best because the kids actually see their work come to fruition,” says Fairchild’s education director Amy Padolf. The criterion for the plants was straightforward. They must produce a “large amount of edible biomass,” grow with low resources (limited lighting and water), and have a high vitamin content, including vitamin K, which preserves bone density. The plants must also be stress resistant – perfect for students who don’t always water on time.
The next step is for Gables-based Fairchild is to use its funding from NASA ($300,000 a year through 2019) to create a public space at the gardens where the community can view the project and help with the study.