Why is NASA conducting plant research aboard the International Space Station ? Because during future long-duration missions, life in space may depend on it.
The ability of plants to provide a source of food and recycle carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen may prove critical for astronauts who will live in space for months at a time. In addition, plants provide a sense of well-being. At the McMurdo Station for research in Antarctica -- a site that in the dead of winter resembles the space station in its isolation, cramped quarters, and hostile environment -- the most sought after section of the habitat is the greenhouse.
NASA and the European Space Agency, or ESA, are studying how plants adapt to micro- and low-gravity environments in a series of experiments designed to determine the ability of vegetation to provide a complete, sustainable, dependable and economical means for human life support in space. As researchers continue to gain new knowledge of how plants grow and develop at a molecular level, this insight also may lead to significant advances in agriculture production on Earth.