As­tro­nauts grow let­tuce in space lab

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By CHENG YINGQI in Bei­jing chengy­ingqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn Xin­hua con­trib­uted to this story.

One of the most im­pres­sive parts of the movie The Mar­tian is when the lead char­ac­ter — an as­tro­naut stranded on Mars after his team as­sumed him dead — suc­ceeds at grow­ing pota­toes to keep him­self alive while wait­ing to be res­cued.

Now, Chi­nese sci­en­tists are test­ing the idea by at­tempt­ing to grow veg­eta­bles in the Tian­gong II space lab.

“If peo­ple live on Mars some­day, they will need to grow grain and veg­eta­bles there,” said Zheng Huiqiong, a re­searcher at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of Sciences’ In­sti­tute of Plant Phys­i­ol­ogy and Ecol­ogy in Shang­hai.

“On Earth, 95 per­cent of the en­ergy that keeps hu­mans and an­i­mals alive is pro­vided by plants, which trans­fer so­lar en­ergy to chem­i­cally stored en­ergy. So, as long as you can grow plants, you can live wher­ever you want in space, as plants are the only means to trans­fer the sun’s en­ergy,” Zheng said.

The plant cho­sen for the Tian­gong II space lab ex­per­i­ment is let­tuce.

Wang Longji, an as­so­ciate re­searcher at the As­tro­naut Cen­ter of China, said one main rea­son for choos­ing let­tuce was its 30-day growth cy­cle, which suits the du­ra­tion of the task.

Tian­gong II was launched in mid-Septem­ber to re­place the Tian­gong I space lab, which re­tired in March. On Oct 19,

As long as you can grow plants, you can live wher­ever you want in space.”

Zheng Huiqiong, re­searcher at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of Sciences’ In­sti­tute of Plant Phys­i­ol­ogy and Ecol­ogy

Tian­gong II docked with the Shenzhou XI manned space­ship car­ry­ing two as­tro­nauts for a 30-day stay.

The as­tro­nauts started the plant-grow­ing ex­per­i­ment on the sec­ond day after dock­ing. They first set up a cul­ture sys­tem com­posed of small plas­tic units. After wa­ter­ing the units and plant­ing seeds, they cov­ered the sur­face with plas­tic wrap.

“On en­ter­ing the space lab on the fifth morn­ing, we found the seeds had ger­mi­nated. We were happy, so we took a lot of pho­tos and in­formed ground staff,” said Jing Haipeng, com­man­der of the mis­sion.

Red wave let­tuce has been cul­ti­vated on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, and NASA re­leased a video of US and Ja­panese as­tro­nauts eat­ing the space-grown let­tuce in Au­gust last year.

XIN­HUA

As­tro­naut Jing Haipeng shows let­tuce grow­ing in the Tian­gong II space lab on Fri­day.

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