|Seeds in Space History|
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NASA and Park Seed: 25 Years of Seeds in Space
Why would a 115-year-old want to go into outer space? For the same reason anybody else would—for the adventure, of course! In 1983, when the Park Seed Company was 115 years old, then corporate Vice President George Park found out that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was inviting schools and businesses to send small experiments into space. George proposed to put seeds on the Space Shuttle to see what affect space travel would have on the seeds. Park Seed’s then CEO, William John Park, saw that this concept had great potential for adventure and for learning, so he authorized George to pursue the idea. Growing from that first small project, NASA and Park Seed have been collaborating to learn how seeds respond to outer space conditions and, perhaps more importantly, to give students around the world an opportunity to perform hands-on science experiments with space-exposed seeds.
Park Seed’s first space flight adventure was part of what NASA informally calls the "Get Away Special" program. This program, officially called the Small, Self-Contained Payloads program, made it possible for people and agencies outside of NASA to send experiments into space.
Park Seed’s Get Away Special was part of mission STS-6, which launched on April 4, 1983 aboard the Challenger space shuttle. The flight crew was made up of Paul J. Weittz, Commander; Karol J. Bobko, Pilot, and Donald H. Peterson and F. Story Musgrave, Mission Specialists. According to NASA’s shuttle archives, "the primary payload was the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-1(TDRS-1)." This flight also included the first-ever space walk of the Shuttle program. And the mission also included three Get Away Special payloads, one of which contained seeds from Park Seed Company.
According to the STS-6 press kit from NASA:
"The Park Seed Co. will send 11.3 kg (25 lb.) of common fruit and vegetable seeds into orbit. The 40 varieties—from potatoes to sweet corn—will be aboard the Shuttle, according to George Park Jr., assistant vice president.
"Park explained that 21st Century space stations and lunar bases will have to grow their own food from seeds in special, enclosed environments because food itself is too bulky to carry into space. As a result, the Park Co. believes there's a market in the future.
"The firm's primary objective is to determine how seeds must be packaged to withstand space flight. While nothing will be grown [during the Space Shuttle flight] in the seed experiment, seeds will be germinated once they are returned to earth. Two other identical groups of seeds left on the ground also will be studied for comparison. Some of the seeds are packaged in simple Dacrontm bags, and others are sealed airtight in plastic pouches. One seed batch will be packed along the perimeter of the metal Getaway Special canister that houses the experiment, leaving it exposed to severe temperatures and cosmic radiation. Another batch of seeds will be sealed in the center of the canister where there is greater shielding from the space environment.
"Researchers with the seed company plan to study the effects of the extreme temperature changes and radiation on the seeds. In some instances, extra doses of radiation may be beneficial to farmers, Park explained, who welcome a greater probability of seed mutations. With mutations come a genetic diversity that might mean hardier breeds of plants, he said. Extreme fluctuations in temperatures, on the other hand, he explained, might take their toll. Park believes this experiment will provide some ground rules for the future transport of food in space."
The seed was packaged in Dacrontm pouches and stored inside the Get Away Special aluminum container. Half of the seed was in an airtight, sealed area of the container; the other half was in an unsealed, vented section. It is believed that this is the first biological material ever sent from Earth in a vented container and thus exposed directly to outer space.
When the seed returned to Earth, it was delivered to the Park Seed Company research team, which grew samples of the space-exposed seed and matching control seed, monitoring the experimental plants for any differences or negative effects resulting from space travel. None were observed.
NASA Seeds in Space
"Plants vary in their heat stress tolerance, not only from species to species, but also from cultivar to cultivar. In addition, unusual seasons-fewer or more hot days than normal-will invariably affect results in your garden, as will extremely dry or humid conditions," Dr. H. Marc Cathey, with Linda Bellamy, Heat-zone Gardening, How to choose plants that thrive in your region’s warmest weather.