Advanced AstrocultureTM (ADVASC) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Understanding the effects of gravity on plant life is essential in preparation for future interplanetary exploration. The ability to produce high energy, low mass food sources during space flight will enable the maintenance of crew health during long duration missions while having a reduced impact on resources necessary for long distance travel. Additional applications of a plant growth chamber include using plants as components of regenerative life support systems for travel to the Moon and Mars.
Science Results for Everyone
Astronauts are learning to grow plants for food in space. ISS crew successfully grew two consecutive generations of mustard plants on the space station, showing that gravity is not required for growing healthy plants but does play a role in plant form and seed quality. The experiment also grew soybeans from seed to seed in space, producing larger plants, and seeds with comparable germination rates to those planted on Earth. The ADVASC growth chamber proved very successful at growing plants, and improvements to the hardware are on-going. Future experiments are needed to see whether some unique growth characteristics in space occur across different species of plants.

The following content was provided by Weijia Zhou, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Weijia Zhou, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, United States

Tom Corbin, Ph.D., Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc (a DuPont Company), Champaign, IL, United States

University of Wisconsin at Madison, Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics, Madison, WI, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2001 - August 2001; December 2001 - December 2002

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
The precursor to ADVASC, AstrocultureTM flew on several Space Shuttle missions, including STS-107, which was lost in 2003.

^ back to top

Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The International Space Station (ISS) provided an ideal laboratory for growing plants and studying the influence of gravity on plants that evolved on Earth.

  • Advanced AstrocultureTM (ADVASC) determined whether plants can complete their seed-to-seed life cycle in microgravity, as well as determined the effects of microgravity on gene expression levels and compared the chemical characteristics of the various seeds produced on the ISS versus seeds harvested on Earth.

Advanced Astroculture (ADVASC) was a commercially sponsored payload that provided precise control of environmental parameters for plant growth, including temperature, relative humidity, light, fluid nutrient delivery, and carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethylene concentrations. ADVASC hardware was used in a series of tests over three Expeditions (2, 4, and 5). First, ADVASC demonstrated the first “seed-to-seed” experiment in space, growing Arabidopsis thaliana through a complete life cycle. (Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) is a model system in plant biology studies with a short life cycle, a completely sequenced genome, and a history of space experiments.) Next, 35% of the space-grown seeds and 65% of wild Arabidopsis seeds were grown. Finally, soybean plants were also grown through an entire life cycle.

^ back to top


Space Applications
ADVASC explored the benefits of using microgravity to create customized crops that withstand disease and inhospitable conditions, resist pestilence, and need less space to grow. These are qualities that will benefit space explorers and earth inhabitants. Plant growth and development in microgravity will provide a natural air and water filtration system and large-scale plant growth systems. Furthermore, ADVASC is a precursor for growing plants during extended space expeditions to the Moon and Mars.

Earth Applications
ADVASC has contributed to National Security, cancer-fighting pharmaceuticals and educational tools for students. Bio-KES, a device that uses ultraviolet light to convert ethylene into carbon dioxide and water, to remove the ethylene from plant growth chamber, can be used to kill pathogens like anthrax. The light, used to simulate photosynthesis in the growth chambers, heals wounds and increases the effectiveness of cancer-fighting drugs in vitro. The Orbital Laboratory is an internet-based multimedia tool that allowed students and educators to conduct their own ground-based plant experiments and to analyze data returned from the ADVASC units in their classrooms on Earth.

^ back to top


Operational Requirements and Protocols
ADVASC was designed to operate relatively autonomously, providing temperature, humidity, lighting control, nutrient delivery, and data downlink with minimal crew assistance. The experiment did not need power during delivery and return on the Shuttle, but required continuous power while on ISS. Video and computer support controlled through the ADVASC-Support System sent data directly to investigators at Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR) via the Telescience Resource Kit (TReK) system. The crew provided on-orbit support, using syringes to take samples and making sure the hardware was operated nominally.
During ISS Expeditions 2 and 4, ninety-one Arabidopsis thaliana seeds were planted in the ADVASC hardware. The ADVASC hardware was activated on ISS, the hardware maintained a temperature of 22 degrees C, a relative humidity of 70 percent and 16 hours of light followed by 8 hour dark periods. The crew monitored the plants periodically and took samples at scheduled intervals.

For ISS Expedition 5, eight soybean seeds (Pioneer Brand 9306) were planted in the ADVASC hardware and sent to ISS. Following activation of the investigation on ISS, the temperature was maintained at 26 degrees C - 22 degrees C, for light and dark respectively. The relative humidity was maintained at 70 percent with fourteen hour light cycles followed by 10 hour dark cycles. The crew monitored the plants periodically and took samples at scheduled intervals.

^ back to top

Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

^ back to top

Results/More Information

Scientists successfully grew Arabidopsis thaliana (a small edible mustard plant) in space from seeds on the International Space Station (ISS). Ninety percent of seeds germinated in space, although only 70 percent of the plants reached maturity. During a two-month growth period, the seeds grew into mature plants that produced their own seeds. Some of the space-produced seeds were returned and planted back on Earth which produced normal plants without any visible defects. Some of the space seeds remained on ISS for replanting to produce a second (back-to-back) generation of microgravity-grown Arabidopsis. Seeds and plant tissues from this second generation were also harvested and preserved for further study. Two consecutive generations, that is, seed to seed to seed, of Arabidopsis thaliana were successfully grown in space.
In general, plant growth and development in microgravity proceeded similarly to those of the ground controls so gravity is not necessary for seed-to-seed growth of plants, though it plays a direct role in plant form and may influence seed quality. Arabidopsis space seeds are about half the size of ground-grown seeds but their protein content are similar with little change in germination rates. A striking feature of space-grown Arabidopsis is that the secondary branches and seed pods formed nearly perpendicular angles to the main stems rather than angling upward, as with ground plants, indicating that gravity is the key determinant of branch angle and that light had either no role or a secondary role in branch and pod orientation.
In the third ADVASC experiment, soybeans were grown from seed to seed for the first time in space. The space seeds soybean plants were about 4 percent larger than ground controls. Flight and grounds controls produced nearly identical numbers of seeds, but the space seeds were larger on average. Scientists found that the seeds produced in space were healthy, the germination rates were comparable to those on Earth, and no major physical differences were seen.
It is concluded that the ADVASC growth chamber in general provided a very good environment for growing plants on the ISS. Future experiments should be conducted to see if the physical changes observed for Arabidopsis can be generalized across different species of plants. Redesigns of space growth chambers should also improve the root zone aeration to see whether the observed minor reduction in seed protein content is due to root oxygen starvation or some other aspect of the microgravity environment.

^ back to top

Results Publications

    Link BM, Busse JS, Stankovic B.  Seed-to-Seed-to-Seed Growth and Development of Arabidopsis in Microgravity. Astrobiology. 2014 October; 14(10): 866-875. DOI: 10.1089/ast.2014.1184. PMID: 25317938.

    Link BM, Durst SJ, Zhou W, Stankovic B.  Seed-to-seed growth of Arabidopsis Thaliana on the International Space Station. Advances in Space Research. 2003; 31(10): 2237-2243. DOI: 10.1016/S0273-1177(03)00250-3.

    Zhou W, Durst SJ, DeMars M, Stankovic B, Link BM, Tellez G, Meyers RA, Sandstrom PW, Abba JR.  Performance of the Advanced ASTROCULTURETM plant growth unit during ISS-6A/7A mission. SAE Technical Paper. 2002; 2002-01-2280. DOI: 10.4271/2002-01-2280. [Paper # 02ICES-267]

^ back to top

Ground Based Results Publications

^ back to top

ISS Patents

^ back to top

Related Publications

    Zhou W, Turner M.  Development of the Commercial Plant Biotechnology Facility for the International Space Station. Proceedings of International Conference on Environmental Control, Toulouse, France; 2000

    Link BM, Wagner ER, Cosgrove DJ.  The effect of a microgravity (space) environment on the expression of expansins from the peg and root tissues of Cucumis sativus. Physiologia Plantarum. 2001; 113(2): 293-300. PMID: 11710397.

    Stankovic B.  2001: A plant space odyssey. Trends in Plant Science. 2001; 6(12): 591-593. DOI: 10.1016/S1360-1385(01)02158-6. PMID: 11738385.

    Zhou W.  Advanced AstrocultureTM Plant Growth Unit: Capabilities and Performances. 35th International Conference on Environmental Systems, Rome, Italy; 2005

    Zabel P, Bamsey M, Schubert D, Tajmar M.  Review and analysis of over 40 years of space plant growth systems. Life Sciences in Space Research. 2016 August; 10: 1-16. DOI: 10.1016/j.lssr.2016.06.004.

    Duffie N, Zhou W, Oberstar E, Kornfeld M, Ptacek W.  Design of a Crop Harvesting End Effector for the Robotic System used in the NASA JSC Biomass Production Chamber. SAE Technical Paper. 2003; 2003-01-2598. DOI: 10.4271/2003-01-2598.

    Negele T, Duffie N, Zhou W.  Design of a Reconfigurable End Effector to be Integrated into the Robotic System used in the NASA JSC Biomass Production Chamber. SAE Technical Paper. 2002; 2002-01-2514. DOI: 10.4271/2002-01-2514.

    Stankovic B, Antonsen F, Johnsson A, Volkmann D, Sack FD.  Autonomic straightening of gravitropically curved cress roots in microgravity. Advances in Space Research. 2001; 27(5): 915-919. PMID: 11594376.

    Zhou W, Duffie N.  Performance of the ASTROCULTURE" Plant Growth Chamber (ASC-8) during the STS-95 Mission. Proceedings of International Conference on Environmental Control, Toulouse, France; 2000 July 8-12

^ back to top

Related Websites

^ back to top


image NASA Image: ISS005E08001- NASA ISS Science Officer, Peggy Whitson looks at the ADVASC Soybean plant growth experiment in the U.S. Laboratory during Increment 5.
+ View Larger Image

image Video screen shot of the NASA ISS Science Officer, Peggy Whitson working with ADVASC during Increment 5. Image courtesy of NASA, Johnson Space Center.
+ View Larger Image

image Video screen shot of tissue from the Arabidopsis thaliana plants. The plant tissues are sampled for RNA analysis on the ground. The samples are taken at two different points in the growth cycle. This picture shows the plants in the container in which they are preserved. Image courtesy of NASA, Johnson Space Center.
+ View Larger Image

image Dried Arabidopsis thaliana plants, from ISS Expedition 4, upon their return to Earth. Image courtesy of Weijia Zhou.
+ View Larger Image

NASA Image: ISS004E8728 - Interior view of the Advanced Astroculture (ADVASC) experiment plant growth chamber showing the emergence of mustard seedlings.

+ View Larger Image