U.S. Astronaut Scott Kelly has confirmed that a Zinnia flower has successfully grown in space through a photo he posted on Twitter, which he captioned, "First ever flower grown in space makes its debut! #SpaceFlower #zinnia #YearInSpace," reported CNN on Monday.
Two years ago, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) attempted to grow edible plants in microgravity, but have failed a number of times due to molds growing on a few leaves because of increased humidity.
"Our plants aren't looking too good," tweeted Kelly late in December 2015, referring to the zinnia plants with moldy leaves. "Would be a problem [for a human colony] on Mars."
Kelly reportedly revived the zinnia flowers, to which he joked about having to channel his "inner Mark Watney," the character played by American actor Matt Damon in the 2011 film "The Martian" who was able to grow potatoes in outer space.
According to Independent on Monday, astronauts have attempted to grow plants in space before, including wheat and lettuce, but this is the first time that a flower has bloomed in a gravity-free setting.
"The zinnia plant is very different from lettuce," said Trent Smith, project manager of the ISS's "Veggie" plant growth facility. "It is more sensitive to environmental parameters and light characteristics. It has a longer growth duration between 60 and 80 days. Thus, it is a more difficult plant to grow, and allowing it to flower, along with the longer growth duration, makes it a good precursor to a tomato plant."
Not only does this prove that it is indeed possible to grow flowers in space, but the growth of zinnia flower also hopes to raise the spirits of the ISS crew.
"Plants can indeed enhance long-duration missions in isolated, confined and extreme environments - environments that are artificial and deprived of nature," noted Alexandra Whitmire of the NASA Human Research Programme. "While not all crew members may enjoy taking care of plants, for many, having this option is beneficial."
"In future missions, the importance of plants will likely increase given the crews' limited connection to Earth," Whitmire added. "Studies from other isolated and confined environments, such as Antarctic stations, demonstrate the importance of plants in confinement, and how much more salient fresh food becomes psychologically, when there is little stimuli around."