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Expeditions Diaries Expedition 31: Letters to Earth Diary of a Space Zucchini, What do Dragons Eat?
Diary of a Space Zucchini, What do Dragons Eat?
Source: NASA Blogs
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Moon to Mars
Posted:   11/05/12
Author:    Don Pettit

Summary: Don Pettit continues documenting the progress of plants grown on board the International Space Station. By studying different plants, from sunflowers to zucchinis, the experiments are helping scientists understand how life from Earth adapts to the space environment.

Diary of a Space Zucchini

New leaves on a space zucchini. Credit: Don Pettit
Posted on Apr 25, 2012 03:54:09 PM

March 26
I have new leaves! I am no longer naked to the cosmos. They are not as big as before however they are just as green. Broccoli and Sunflower have leaves as well and are vibrant. We all have happy roots. This is a hard to explain to a non-plant, but I am feeling very zucchini now.

March 27
We are all back in the space flight game. Tomorrow is a big day. An unplanted spacecraft is arriving with a cargo of much needed supplies. If the automatics fail, we as crew have to be prepared to take over in the final stages of docking. I am ready; it will not fail because of me.

March 28
The cargo spacecraft arrived and docked without any problems. We have had all this training, we have prepared with leaf and stem just in case things go wrong. There is a small voice inside that would like the chance to use this training, thus saving the day in the face of a malady. On the frontier of space, it is unwise to wish for malfunctions; you do not want to be a hero.

Don Pettit (front) on board the ISS with European Astronaut Andre Kuipers. Credit: NASA
March 31
We had a long and tiring week. There was much activity that took us well into Friday evening. We were all looking forward to some off duty time. Gardener said he would treat us to some window time. There is nothing like catching a few rays to green up the foliage.

Saturday morning, the big gardener that speaks from the wall told us the cargo vehicle had an electrical failure and might need to undergo a contingency undock in the next day or two. It was planned to stay docked for months where we could unpack the supplies in an orderly process over a three-week period. To save our precious supplies, we had one day to do three weeks of work. With all the large bags floating by, it was good to stay out of the way. Any one of them could have easily smash us into salad. Later that evening, Gardener came by and we presented him with our vibrant green and tickled his nose with our fresh aroma. When we saw a tired smile come to his face, we knew we had done our part in this contingency.

What Do Dragons Eat?
The roots of the space zucchini are seen covered in algae. Credit: Don Pettit
Posted on Jun 14, 2012 11:17:56 AM


April 2
Oh no, we have algae root! Our plastic potting bags, being transparent, allow our roots to be soaked in light. That does not particularly bother us but it allows for some freeloaders to make their home in the dampness of our plastic, aeroponic bags. So our planter bags are now turning green with colonies of algae. The gardener inspected a green drop of water under a microscope and saw single-celled, elongated, free-swimming algae with two flagella. They make many tiny bubbles of oxygen that stay suspended in the surrounding water. The extra oxygen makes my roots happy. How these stowaways got here is a mystery. Gardener says they were probably on our seeds. In any case, we now have some new friends. I am not certain if they are plant or animal.

April 6
I heard a rumor that a dragon is coming and the Gardener is going to catch it. He and his crewmates are spending much time preparing for this event. They practice right next to our grow light so we can watch them train. This looks like serious business.
A sunflower grown on the International Space Station. Credit: Don Pettit
I guess when you are dealing with dragons you have to be careful. At first I was worried about having a dragon onboard but then I remembered that they only eat meat.

April 10
What is Gardener up to? He only gave us a brief glance this morning. Sunflower, Broccoli, and I are getting thirsty. Our aeroponic bags only hold about 50 milliliters of water and they are quickly drying up. He usually adds about 30 each morning. By afternoon our leaves were wilting. They do not droop under the pull of gravity like leaves on Earth plants. They simply float like pieces of green crinkled paper. Perhaps Gardener did not notice. By evening, he was shocked when he saw us. How could we dry out in only one day he said? I could tell he felt really bad. He was busy with the dragon preparations. We got watered and our leaves inflated within minutes. Even Sunflower with a scrawny ½ meter long stalk inflated his leaves in short order. It is amazing how quickly our vascular bundles can transport water to where it’s needed.


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