On the quest to provide fresh food for the crew in orbit, China’s Shenzhou 16 astronauts have been growing a space garden in low Earth orbit. The mission commander Jing Haipeng and rookie Astros Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao have been planting vegetables in space as part of their science experiment tasks on the Tiangong space station.
The crew depends on space garden cultivation devices to grow these veggies in the weightless environment of space. Scientists of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center specifically designed the cultivation device to make planting in space much easier for astronauts. The science behind this device is that it regulates temperature, oxygen, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels to create eco-friendly environments for the vegetables to thrive.
The space garden is positioned upside down with respect to Earth aboard the Tiangong space station. China National Space Administration (CNSA) is hoping that the vegetable garden will provide food, oxygen, and water for the crew aboard the station in the future. CCTV+ revealed that the agency also hopes that the garden will serve as an experiment platform to research the effects of special environments like microgravity, and space on growing plants.
Efforts Made by China’s Astronauts In Growing Vegetables in the Space Garden
China’s astronauts did not start to grow food in space recently. During the Shenzhou 14 mission in 2022, the crew that participated in the mission planted Thales cress and other unique plants as they conducted their mission objective aboard the space station. Currently, Tiangong’s space garden harbors up to 100 types of seeds.
The astronauts often expose these seeds to cosmic radiation and return them back to Earth to study. Researchers are hoping to separate beneficial mutations through this process and also improve crop strains in orbit. The Shenzhou 16 astronauts that are currently in orbit have continued the experiment of their predecessors. However, they are still not close to growing foods that they can consume in space.
The crew enjoys up to 120 dishes while in orbit as the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft always delivers their supplies frequently. However, the crew will continue to research how to improve their food to become edible to future astronauts coming aboard the space station. After CNSA completed its three-module Tiangong space station in late 2022, the agency has focused more of its energy on improving technologies that will sustain future crew aboard the orbiting laboratory.
The Shenzhou 16 astronauts currently occupying the station launched on May 29 to replace the Shenzhou 15 crew. Jing and his colleagues will continue to work in the station until the Shenzhou 17 crew arrives in November this year.
The Shenzhou 16 astronauts have been growing food aboard the space station since they arrived. Even though these vegetables are not edible yet, CNSA hopes to grow foods that astronauts can consume in space someday. What do you think about this? Check out these fascinating space gifts to give anyone curious about the universe.