BASF sponsors student project for growing vegetables in space

BASF is sponsoring a research project at a German vocational school to determine if it is possible to produce large quantities of high-quality vegetables on a space station nearly 200 miles from Earth, the company announced Tuesday.

The study of how crops can be cultivated in the microgravity of space is being done by three 12th-grade students in the agricultural program at Edith Stein School in Ravensburg. The research trial is scheduled for take-off to the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of the year.

Harald Rang, BASF Crop Protection senior vice president for research and development, said the company is excited to be working with forward-thinking young people who strive for groundbreaking ideas and innovation.

“With our 100 years of experience in agriculture, it has been a thrilling challenge to investigate what could come next and how to achieve the ultimate goal of growing and reproducing plants on a space station,” Rang said.

If cuttings could be used to reproduce plants in microgravity, it would be a major step toward supplying long-term space flights – those to Mars, for example -- with food from space farming. Until now, experiments conducted in microgravity have focused on studying the growth of the seedlings' roots. In contrast to seedlings, cuttings do not have a root system. Thus, the question the students are attempting to answer with their experiment is simple but groundbreaking: Can cuttings grow their own root system without gravity to guide them?

To ensure success of the experiment, the student research team is developing an appropriate experimental design for the ISS. BASF is providing knowledge on how to keep the plants healthy and free from fungal disease during the 30 days in the ISS environment. The students will do an internship with experts at the BASF Agricultural Center in Limburgerhof, Germany, before conducting trials at Kennedy Space Center laboratories in Florida.

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