Rocket Science project finds out what can grow in space

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Uckfield students are helping pioneer a unique experiment which aims to find out whether food could be grown in space.

British astronaut Tim Peake asked schoolchildren to help him with one of his scientic experiments. He asked them to plant rocket seeds that were in orbit with him, and then compare their growth with rocket plants that have stayed on earth.

He outlined details of the Rocket Science project in a message from the International Space Station which has been sent to schools on earth. The study will help determine whether food can be grown in space, which would be essential when humans travel to distant planets.

On September 2 last year two kilograms of rocket seed were blasted into space from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on board the Soyus 44S rocket to the International Space Station. The seeds were stored in microgravity by Tim Peake and returned to earth with Scott Kelly last month.

Uckfield’s ‘A’ Level Environmental Studies students collaborated with the College’s science club and students who attended the NASA trip to Houston in January to plant 200 seeds. Of the two packets they received, 100 seeds had travelled around the planet 400km above us at 17,000mph for six months while the other 100 remained on planet earth.

The seeds were planted in trays and the experiment is now in reception at UCTC. Data on their germination and growth rates will be included in the national database where findings will be analysed.

The outcome of the experiment will largely determine how far mankind can venture into space. Tim Peake explained: “Conditions here on the ISS are quite different from on planet Earth, due to us being weightless in orbit. This experiment will aim to see if microgravity can affect the growth mechanisms in seeds.”

Other schools also have seeds and pupils across the UK will compare the growth of the spare seeds with the others which stayed earthbound - a comparison which had never before been made on this scale according to Dr Alistair Griffiths, the scientific director of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS.) “This is genuinely useful science,” Tim said. “There will be impacts from zero gravity and from cosmic radiation and no one really knows what those will be. So the results really will contribute to the science of how to grow plants in space.”

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