Scientist Gary Stutte brings agricultural knowledge and experience to NASA research into growing plants in space.
Where do you work and what is your title?
I am a senior scientist and principal investigator for Dynamac Corporation in the Space Life Science Lab at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Image to right: Gary Stutte examines radish plants being studied by NASA for future crop growth in space. Credit: NASA
What degree did you obtain?
I have a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in horticulture and a doctorate in plant physiology.
What motivated you to pursue your career?
I have a desire to improve plants that provide food for people.
Briefly tell about the life experiences that made it possible for you to work at NASA.
Working on a farm and then an active agriculture experiment station exposed me to the importance of the environment for food production, and the ways that scientists could work with plants to adapt them to the stresses of field work. While pursuing my degrees, I had the opportunity to work with both progressive farmers and leading scientists and understood how basic research information obtained in the lab could be applied to agriculture problems. I've had the privilege of using those insights at NASA to help bioregenerative life-support systems for long-duration space missions and to learn how plants respond to the unique environment of spaceflight.
What was the most important experience that prepared you for your job?
Growing a garden.
What's the coolest thing about your job?
Working with technology years before anyone else gets to play with it.
Describe your role in plant research.
I design, implement and interpret experiments to optimize the growth, productivity and quality of plants that will be used on long-duration space missions.
Please comment on the difficulties of living and working in space.
The spaceflight environment provides challenges for planting, watering and harvesting crop plants. Long-duration space missions provide additional challenges of recycling air, water and food with limited amounts of power and space. The crews on long-duration space missions will face physical challenges from radiation and psychological challenges from isolation that plants may mitigate.
Why do you think plant research is important to the success of space exploration?
Plants provide a bioregenerative life-support system that revitalizes the atmosphere, purifies the water and produces healthy, nutritious food. Plants provide physiological protection to the crew by increasing concentrations of bioprotectants in the diet and a psychological break from the isolation of space. Understanding the effects of spaceflight environment, and the utilization of that understanding, is critical for humans to fully explore space.
Since plant growth will be an important part of space exploration in the future, plant scientists like Gary Stutte are working today to learn what they need to know to make growing plants in space possible.
Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services