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Plants in Space

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The live Plants in Space experiment was conducted aboard the International Space Station in Fall 2011. All videos, images and other necessary resources are archived on BioEd Online, so your students can conduct the investigation whenever, and as often as you like.

Grow ground-based control plants in your classroom, download hourly photographs from the International Space Station, and design your own experiments based on the data from space.

Developed and conducted by the Center for Educational Outreach, Baylor College of Medicine, in collaboration with BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Investigation Information: Click Here

Stems grow up. Roots grow down. At least, that's what happens on Earth. In the microgravity environment of the International Space Station (ISS), things work a little differently. Plants do not sense “up” or “down,” so their growth can be erratic. Astronauts on long space flights will rely on plants as a food source, so it is important to learn how to make plants grow normally in the absence of a dominant gravity direction.

Light affects the direction in which plant roots grow. Typically, roots grow toward light sources with strong red wavelengths, and away from light sources with strong blue components. These responses are referred to as phototropic (plant growth responses to light). The Plants in Space investigation examines whether white light with a strong blue component will cause plant roots to grow into their growth medium, even without gravity's directional clues “telling” them to do so.

Using similar chambers and plants as those flown on ISS, your students will make daily observations to measure and compare plants in normal gravity with those in microgravity. Photos and videos of the space plants are available at the links below. Four, 5-day planting experiments were conducted during Fall of 2011.

Experiments 1 (planted September 20, 2011) and 3 (planted October 7, 2011) looked at phototropism effects on root growth. Gel is 0.3% density. The seeds in each flask had a different orientation. From left to right in each photo of the ISS investigation, seed orientations were: scar side facing downward; seed sideways; and scar side facing upward.

Diagram with the seeds in the down, sideways and up positions.

Experiments 2 (planted September 29, 2011) and 4 (planted October 17, 2011) examined thigmotropism. Seeds in all flasks were oriented with the scar side facing downward. Each flask had two different densities of gel. From left to right in each photo from ISS, the densities of the two layers of the gel in the flasks were: .0.3 and 0.4%; 0.3 and 0.5%; 0.3 and 0.6%.

A bonus, unscheduled experiment (planted October 26, 2011) utilized backup experiment equipment and explored sideways-oriented seeds in the dark condition.

The two light conditions for each of the first four plantings were 24 hours of light and 24 hours of darkness. The three flasks in each condition were planted in exactly the same way.

Complete Teacher Guide

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Plants in Space

Use Wisconsin FastPlants® to investigate plant root growth and compare seedlings in class to ones grown in space.

Classroom SlidesSlide Set

Classroom Slides

Slide set containing information and images from the Plants in Space Teacher's Guide, for use in classrooms as needed.

Videos, Photos and Slides

Explore BioEd Online’s media library to gather background information, and to view plants grown on ISS and in ground-based investigations. All videos, photos and slides are free for classroom use.

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Introduction to Plants In Space

Dr. Greg Vogt explains the Plants in Space experiment, including how to create a small, white-light plant growth chamber made from inexpensive materials.

Thumbnail Image for JAXA's Satoshi Furukawa plants new seeds aboard ISS Video

JAXA's Satoshi Furukawa plants new seeds aboard ISS

JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa sets up the second of four Plants in Space experiments aboard the ISS.

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STS-134: Endeavour's Final Voyage

Watch the History of Space Shuttle Endeavour produced by NASA.

Complete Photo Set: Plants in SpaceExternal Link

Complete Photo Set: Plants in Space

The complete photo archive of all rounds and chambers of the Plants in Space Experiment on Flickr.

Supplemental Classroom Guides

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Scientific Image Processing

Students learn how to obtain and use ImageJ image processing software (free) to enhance subtle details in photos of an organism or experiment sample.

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Designing Your Investigation

Details key steps for conducting a scientific investigation (i.e., begin with a question, design a procedure to collect the required data, etc.).

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Naturalist Journals

Covers the uses and benefits of naturalist journals, which scientists have employed for centuries to organize data into a meaningful form through sketches, pictures, and written observations.

Related Content

STS-134 Mission Information (Website)External Link

STS-134 Mission Information (Website)

Learn more about the Space Shuttle mission that transported the Plants in Space experiment to ISS.

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Exploring Microgravity

What is gravity? How does it impact objects on Earth and in space? What conditions do astronauts experience in microgravity, and how those conditions influence life and research during long-duration space missions?

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Rockets: Force and Motion

Basic information about how astronauts and scientific experiments are launched into space.

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Rockets (Educator’s Guide)

Lessons and hands-on activities that enable students to examine the history, science, technology, engineering and mathematics of rockets and rocketry.


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

This work was supported by National Space Biomedical Research Institute through NASA cooperative agreement NCC 9-58.


Houston Endowment Inc.

Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education; Opening Pathways for Teacher Instructional Opportunities in Natural Sciences


Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Science Education Leadership Fellows Program
Grant Numbers: 51006084, 51004102, 51000105