The results of a national schools’ science experiment to analyse how seeds grew after spending time in space could take us one step closer to fulfilling scientists’ dreams of colonising another planet.
The mass experiment, called Rocket Science, which was devised by the RHS in partnership with the UK Space Agency, compared the growth and development of rocket seeds (Eruca sativa) that spent time on the International Space Station (ISS) with Tim Peake, with those that had remained on Earth.
A detailed analysis of the data provided by the 600,000 young people who took part in the experiment, found that the space seeds - which had been subject to violent vibrations while breaking clear of the Earth’s gravitational pull, microgravity, fluctuating temperatures and space radiation for six months, only grew marginally less well than those that had remained on Earth.
This tells scientists that seeds that have survived both the rigours of a journey to space and being stored for several months, are still viable and can germinate and grow. This finding takes scientists closer to knowing whether astronauts could grow edible crops on long space missions and potentially harness the power of plants to sustain future space colonies.
RHS Director of Science and Collections, Dr Alistair Griffiths said: "Knowing that the seeds were largely unaffected by extraterrestrial factors will add to ongoing research looking into how astronauts could become self-sufficient gardeners in space and ultimately on other planets."
European Space Agency astronaut, Tim Peake said: “I want to say a huge thank you to every single young person that took part in this project. I had great fun watching your photos and messages pour in via Twitter while I was working on board the International Space Station. It was brilliant to see you all enjoying being part of such a fascinating science experiment – and a spot of gardening too!
“I hope that this project and my Principia mission have inspired you to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects throughout your time at school or college. There are many exciting and rewarding careers out there waiting for you. If you work hard and aim high, there is no reason why you cannot achieve your dreams.”
Rocket Science was designed to raise the profile of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in schools and inspire a new generation of horticultural scientists.
Download a full colour report detailing the impact and results of the project: Rocket Science: Our Voyage of Discovery
This special mission is part of RHS Campaign for School Gardening
European Space Education Resource Office UK website