Growing Beyond Earth
In May of 2015, Fairchild began a partnership with Kennedy Space Center (KCS) to help further NASA’s plant-based research by calling upon the Garden's large network of highly-engaged, STEM-minded, students and teachers. Most were already participating in ongoing citizen science projects through the award-winning Fairchild Challenge program. Together with NASA scientists, we engineered and installed plant growth chambers analogous to the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) in classrooms throughout South Florida — leveraging an army of nearly 50,000 middle and high school students and teachers in the nation’s fourth largest school district. Growing Beyond Earth (GBE) was designed to expand crop options and increase plant diversity by testing multiple plants that meet NASA’s criteria for growth and edibility.
Over the past two years, students have been testing factors that may influence plant growth, flavor and nutrition. NASA will use students’ data to determine which plants are selected for further testing and will be potentially grown in space. Through the NASA-partnered GBE project, students have tested over 100 varieties of edible plants for germination rates, growth habits and edible biomass production. After confirming that our experimental growth chamber produced similar results to the International Space Station (ISS) Vegetable Production System (Veggie), students helped NASA choose the "cut and come again" procedure to use on the ISS as a method to continuously provide fresh produce. GBE is unique in its focus on real scientific research relevance to NASA mission planning, as fresh produce will be an important part of the astronaut diet on long duration missions beyond Earth orbit.