Anderson looking at a plant growth chamber

    Astronaut Clayton Anderson observes the plant growth inside one of the plant growth chambers on the space station. Image Credit: NASA

    In August 2007, the STS-118 space shuttle mission launched into space, and with it launched 10 million cinnamon basil seeds. Nearly all of the seeds were returned to Earth for students to grow in plant growth chambers they designed, but 16 of the seeds were left behind on the International Space Station for an in-orbit experiment. Along with the seeds, two plant growth chambers, watering devices and drink bags were also left on the space station for Expedition 15 and 16 Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson to use to grow plants from the seeds. Anderson documented the plants' growth by photographing the plants inside the chambers every other day for nearly three weeks. The objective of the experiment was to demonstrate growing plants in a microgravity environment using small plastic chambers. Students can compare the results from their plant growth chamber experiments with Anderson's results.


    Engineering Design Challenge Lunar Plant Growth Chamber graphic

    NASA's Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber gives students the opportunity to experiment with space-flown basil seeds. Image Credit: NASA

    The 20-day in-orbit plant growth investigation was successful. The cinnamon basil seeds germinated in the microgravity environment and had some growth during the short investigation. Toward the end of the experiment, the plants appeared to have received more water than needed, causing them to slowly deteriorate. When the 20 days were up, Expedition 15 and 16 Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson collapsed the growth chambers and prepared them for their trip home on STS-120.

    Plant growth is possible in microgravity. This fact has been proven in the past, and it was proven again with this investigation. But what will be possible in the future as NASA looks towards returning to the moon and on to Mars? Will growing plants on the moon and Mars be possible? How is the environment on the moon and Mars different from the environment on Earth and on the International Space Station? What will future plant growth chambers look like? Students can assist NASA in answering these questions.

    NASA and Park Seed Company have partnered to provide students and teachers with basil seeds flown in space for the NASA Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber. The company's Success with Seeds page offers practical advice about how to grow basil plants here on Earth.

    Related Resources
    Success With Seeds   →
    Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber
    Growing the Future: Plants in Space Video