Space station rice tests show promise


ANN/CHINA DAILY – Chinese astronauts have successfully grown rice seedlings aboard the Tiangong space station and this experiment could yield key insights into how astronauts can grow food to support long-term space missions term, experts said recently.

Although there have been other experiments on rice in space, the one conducted on Tiangong is the first of its kind that aims to produce the complete life cycle of the plant, which begins with a seed and ends with a mature plant producing new seeds.

China launched the Wentian space laboratory into orbit on July 24 to dock with the Tianhe core module of the Chinese space station. The space lab, which weighs 23 metric tons and is 17.9 meters tall, is the largest and heaviest spacecraft in the country to date. On board are eight experimental payloads, including the one for the rice experiment.

Researcher at the Center of Technology and Engineering for Space Utilization of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhao Liping, said the payloads were working fine and the three astronauts were conducting the experiments and testing them in accordance with the plan.

Since the start of the rice experiment on July 29, the seedlings of the tall-sprout rice variety have reached a height of about 30 centimeters, and the seedlings of the dwarf rice variety, nicknamed Xiao Wei, have reached about five centimeters, said a Center researcher. for Excellence in Plant Molecular Science from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Zheng Huiqiong.

Workers retrieve space experiments from the re-entry module of China’s next-generation manned prototype spacecraft during a ceremony in Beijing, China. PHOTO: CHINA DAILY

“The rice plants are growing very well,” Zheng said, adding that the experiment also contained plants of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant in the mustard family often used by scientists to study mutations.

The astronauts will continue to monitor the plants, and if the experiment is successful, they will harvest the newly produced seeds and bring them back to Earth for further study, she added.

“We want to investigate how microgravity can affect the flowering time of plants at the molecular level and whether it is possible to use the microgravity environment to control the associated process,” she said. Flowering is a crucial stage for the reproductive development of plants.

Since the 1980s, China has been transporting seeds of rice and other crops into space to help them mutate and produce higher yields once they’ve been planted on Earth. But growing rice in orbit is a different challenge due to harsh space conditions such as microgravity, lack of air, and high-energy cosmic rays.

Rice has been a staple food for astronauts since the early days of space exploration. American (US) astronauts aboard the Apollo 11 mission, who were the first humans to land on the moon in July 1969, ate freeze-dried chicken and rice while traveling in space.

“But if we want to land on Mars and explore it, bringing food from Earth is not enough for the long journey and mission of astronauts in space. We need to find a sustainable food source for long-term space explorations,” Zheng said.


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