Scientists, Students And Salads In Space
Pine View School students received a visit from NASA this past Friday, when a panel of scientists arrived to discuss their work with the agency’s Vegetable Production System and survey the students’ own botanical work in the school gardens, done in partnership with local chef Paul Mattison. Local entrepreneur Ed Rosenthal joined the panel to discuss the special fertilizer produced by his company, Florikan, which became an integral part of NASA’s mission to grow edible produce in space. “Through collaborative efforts like this,” a Pine View official said to the students, “anything is possible.”
With hundreds seated in the school auditorium, NASA scientist Gioia Massa delivered a presentation on the various challenges facing food production on the International Space Station (ISS) – eliciting the proper ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ with demonstrations of fluid mechanics in zero gravity – as well as the sweeping benefits of gardening in space, beyond nutritional value. As part of the station’s Bioregenerative Life Support Systems, the vegetable gardens NASA plans to grow would affect atmosphere, water processing and even stress relief, said Massa. “You’re trying to mimic what happens on Earth, but in a closed environment,” she continued, “using biology to support the humans.”
Following the presentation, the panel—Massa, Rosenthal and NASA scientists including vegetable engineer Nicole Dufour and postdoctoral fellow Matthew Mickens—engaged in a brief question-and-answer session, fielding queries on everything from trees in space to how to get a job at NASA, before heading outside to the gardens.
Under the direction of Mattison, Pine View students have been growing the same varieties of vegetables grown or planned for growth on the ISS and using the same time-released plant fertilizer made locally that NASA found so effective to use in space. “Where else but America could a family-owned business develop a product that NASA would eventually use in space,” said Florikan founder Rosenthal. “That’s the American Dream.”
Scientists and astronauts have made great strides, Massa said, but problems remain in need of solving. Sharing visions of lunar colonies, she challenged the students. “There’s still a lot of work for you to do in the future.”