For eight years, the Russian module of the International Space Station has hosted a plant-growing experiment that has a Campbell Scientific measurement and control datalogger at its heart.
The Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University designed and built this growing chamber that Russian cosmonauts have been using continuously since 2002 to study plant growth in space. They have grown lettuce, peas, radishes, and grain, with the dual purposes of research and food production.
The suitcase-sized plot has produced a small but steady supply of vegetables since it was installed, and the research has produced valuable knowledge about reproducing plants and seeds in micro gravity, which is important knowledge for future, long-duration space missions.
The control centre of the experiment consists of a CR10X measurement and control datalogger and two AM25T multiplexers that monitor a large number of soil- and air-temperature and water-content measurements, and control the growing environment in the plant chambers.
About half of the plant production is eaten by the cosmonauts, and the rest is sent back to labs on Earth for analysis. The research has produced multiple generations of crops from seeds grown in space, showing the viability of continued plant production on long space journeys.
Another benefit of this growing module is the psychological benefits people reap from working on the project. SDL engineer Shane Topham noted that after it was learned that working with the plants had a calming effect on the cosmonauts, extra time working with the module was assigned during stressful periods.
“If they can use that as a tool to help regulate the worry or difficulties psychologically then that’s a very good benefit to having plants in space, independent of the food,” says Topham.
The latest components for this plant growth module were launched in January 2010, and are scheduled to continue on the International Space Station through to 2012. The research has laid a foundation for improving the quality of life for space travellers on long-term missions to come.