Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Growing Knowledge in Space

Plants are critical in supporting life on Earth, and with help from an experiment that flew onboard space shuttle Discovery's STS-131 mission, they also could transform living in space.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center partnered with the University of Florida, Miami University in Ohio and Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to perform three different experiments in microgravity.

The studies concentrated on the effects microgravity has on plant cell walls, root growth patterns and gene regulation within the plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Each of the studies has future applications on Earth and in space exploration.

"Any research in plant biology helps NASA for future long-range space travel in that plants will be part of bioregenerative life support systems," said John Kiss, one of the researchers who participated in the BRIC-16 experiment onboard Discovery's STS-131 flight in April 2010 and a distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Botany at Miami University in Ohio.

The use of plants to provide a reliable oxygen, food and water source could save the time and money it takes to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), and provide sustainable sources necessary to make long-duration missions a reality. However, before plants can be effectively utilized for space exploration missions, a better understanding of their biology under microgravity is essential.

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