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Plants in Space

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The live Plants in Space experiment was conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) 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 ISS, 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), National Space Biomedical Research Institute, 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 spaceflights 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 the 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 phototropic effects on root growth. Gel was 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 (1) scar side facing downward, (2) seed sideways, and (3) 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 (directional growth of a plant in response to touch). 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 the ISS, the densities of the two layers of the gel in the flasks were .0.3 and 0.4%; 0.3 and 0.5%; and 0.3 and 0.6%.

A bonus unscheduled experiment (planted October 26, 2011) used 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

Thumbnail Image for Plants in Space Teacher Guide

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 the ISS and in ground-based investigations. All videos, photos, and slides are free for classroom use.

Thumbnail Image for Introduction to Plants In Space Video

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.

Thumbnail Image for STS-134: Endeavour's Final Voyage Video

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.

Thumbnail Image for Designing Your Investigation Supplemental

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.

Additional Resources

NASA STS-134 Mission InformationExternal Link

NASA STS-134 Mission Information

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

Thumbnail Image for Exploring Microgravity Video

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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    Exploring Microgravity Presentation

    What is microgravity? How is it created? And how does it impact astronauts during spaceflight? Gregory Vogt, EdD, provides answers to these and other questions about the near-weightless conditions in space.

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    Rockets: Force and Motion Presentation

    Join Dr. Greg Vogt as he discusses the history of rockets and explains how astronauts and scientific experiments are launched into space.


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