It’s hard enough to grow tomatoes from seeds out in a sunny garden patch. To do it in sun-synchronous orbit—that is to say, in outer space—would seem that much harder. But is it?
That’s what plant biologists and aerospace engineers in Cologne and Bremen, Germany are set to find out. Researchers are preparing in the next couple of weeks to send a software upload to a satellite orbiting at 575 kilometers (357 miles) above the Earth. Onboard the satellite are two small greenhouses, each greenhouse bearing six tiny tomato seeds and a gardener’s measure of hope. The upload is going to tell these seeds to go ahead and try to sprout.
The experiment aims to not only grow tomatoes in space but to examine the workings of combined biological life support systems under specific gravitational conditions, namely, those on the moon and on Mars. Eu:CROPIS, which is the name of the satellite as well as the orbital tomato-growing program, is right now spinning at a rate which generates a force that is equal to gravity on the surface of the moon.