Seeds in Space

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After picking up a new African Violet at the grocery store, I noticed a little tag on the plant -- the tag had a picture of the Space Shuttle, surrounded by flowers. Eh? A quick trip to Google, and I learned all about the Optimara EverFloris "Space Violet" program. From the site:

...the development of EverFloris Violets began in 1984, when Optimara launched 25,000 Optimara seeds into space aboard one of NASA's space shuttles. The seeds remained in space, orbiting the Earth, for nearly six years. (The Long Duration Exposure Facility, on which the seeds orbited, is shown at right. [Blogger's note:  see below for an LDEF link]) The program was conceived to test the effect of long-term exposure to cosmic radiation and lack of gravity. When the seeds were retrieved in 1990, many mutations soon became apparent. One such mutation resulted in a new characteristic which Optimara has dubbed 'multiflorescence.' This characteristic gives Optimara Violets an extraordinary abundance of flowers which never stop blooming. Compared with PMA standards, which define a finished African Violet as having five to seven open blooms, a multiflorescent Optimara variety will have at least 20 open blooms.

Um...wow? (Before we move on: more on the Long Duration Exposure Facility.) After consulting my friendly neighborhood geneticist, I was informed that mutations induced by extraterrestrial radiation are no different from mutations created in the lab. But, dude, SPACE.

More stories of seeds in space after the jump.

The Shenzhou VI space mission (China's second manned space expedition) carried sweet potato seeds to orbit in October 2006. The experiment resulted in a variety called the "Purple Orchid III" potato. Yum, space potato!

On the Apollo 14 mission, crewmember Stuart Roosa carried canisters containing 400-500 tree seeds of various types. The canisters got pretty close to the moon, staying with Roosa as he piloted the command module above the lunar surface. Upon returning to earth, the canisters burst open during the decontamination process, the seeds mixed, and were presumed no longer viable. However, most of the seeds germinated and many were planted around the world. NASA maintains a page listing the resulting "Moon Trees."

Further reading: a nice description of seeds in space from the Park Seed Company.

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April 24, 2007 - 5:03am
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