NASA Ames Receives First Plant Images From Space Station

Press Release From: Ames Research Center
Posted: Monday, April 22, 2002

Scientists at NASA Ames Research Center have received the first images of plants growing aboard the International Space Station (ISS). They also have acquired the ability to send commands to the orbiting plant-growth system. Astronauts transferred the Biomass Production System to the ISS from the space shuttle Atlantis last week.

The Biomass Production System (BPS) is an engineering development unit for a future ISS plant habitat capable of supporting long-term plant growth and botanical experimentation in space. The BPS and science samples will return to Earth on the STS-111 space shuttle mission, currently scheduled for a late May launch.

"BPS is a versatile piece of hardware and the team is excited about this first chance to test its capabilities on orbit in support of current and future science experiments," said Dr. Randy Berthold, BPS payload manager at NASA Ames. The BPS is one of several pieces of science hardware being developed by the Space Station Biological Research Project at NASA Ames, in California's Silicon Valley, for use on the space station.

"Although the BPS is the third suite of flight hardware NASA Ames has provided to the ISS, this marks the first time Ames has controlled any of the hardware from the ground," Berthold said. A 2001 space shuttle mission carried an autonomous radiation monitoring and recording system to the ISS. Later that year, the Avian Development Facility was carried on a mission to the ISS, although the facility remained on board the space shuttle.

Each day, the BPS team sends commands to the unit and retrieves the previous day's data files, seven in all. Pictures of the plants included in these files help the investigators determine how well the plants are developing. Commands also can be sent to the BPS to change the timeline for automated activities that were programmed into the unit preflight.

The BPS is a powered hardware system that includes four independent plant-growth chambers, a nutrient delivery system, a temperature/humidity control system, airflow and atmospheric control systems, a video system and a data-processing system. The BPS was developed for NASA by Orbital Technologies Corp., Madison, Wisc.

The primary objective of the BPS is the technology validation test, which will determine how well the BPS and its environmental control subsystems support plant growth and development in microgravity. The best subsystems will be used to design and develop a permanent plant research unit capable of supporting the continued growth and development of plant specimens for 90 days or more on orbit.

The BPS testing process uses Apogee wheat and Brassica rapa plants. Brassica includes such common vegetables as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. The multiple developmental stages (growth, flowering and seedpod production) of Brassica test the ability of the BPS to support the growth of a developmentally complex plant. Dr. Robert Morrow, Orbital Technologies Corp., Madison, Wisc., is the principal investigator.

The BPS also supports the Photosynthesis Experiment and System Testing Operations (PESTO), which studies the growth, photosynthesis, gas exchange and metabolism of Apogee wheat in microgravity. The PESTO principal investigator is Dr. Gary Stutte, Dynamac Corp., Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Understanding photosynthesis is a critical component of plant-based atmospheric regeneration systems now under study for possible use in future long-duration space missions. By generating oxygen, removing carbon dioxide and purifying water, living plants could help maintain proper spacecraft atmosphere, and reduce the costs of air and water resupply. This research also will have direct application to future production of crops that the ISS crew could eat, such as lettuce, radishes or onions.

BPS testing and research are supported by NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research, which promotes basic and applied research to support human exploration of space and to take advantage of the space environment as a laboratory. More information is available at:

Information about NASA's Space Station Biological Research Project is available at:


NOTE TO EDITORS: News media representatives are invited to visit the Telescience Support Center (building N244, room 203B) at NASA Ames Research Center on Thursday, April 18, from 11 a.m. to noon PDT. Scientists at NASA Ames assumed command and control of the Biomass Production System, an engineering development unit on the International Space Station, on April 12. First images of the wheat and Brassica plants growing in space were received later that day. To get to NASA Ames, take the Moffett Field exit from U.S. Highway 101. Stop at the visitor badging office adjacent to the front gate to receive a badge and map to building N-244. Foreign media representatives must call Ann Hutchison in advance to arrange for entry to Ames.

[NOTE: Images supporting this release are available at]

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