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Expeditions Diaries Diary of a Space Zucchini, Part 2
Diary of a Space Zucchini, Part 2
Source: NASA Blogs
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Moon to Mars
Posted:   10/29/12

Summary: Don Pettit, member of the Expedition 31 crew, continues to document the growth of plants in microgravity conditions onboard the International Space Station. These studies provide insight into how Earth life adapts to the space environment.

Diary of a Space Zucchini
Apr 20, 2012 01:17:29 PM | Don Pettit


March 7

Wilting leaves in space. Credit: Don Pettit
I am making a second set of flowers. They are all male flowers, full of fragrance for my crewmates to enjoy. I see Gardener smile.

March 8
Oh my aching roots! I am sick; my flower buds have wilted into little brown nubbins. My leaves have a fringe of brown that gets wider every day. The edges are curled and brittle almost like dried out leaves yet I have plenty of tea to drink. On Earth my leaves would be drooping but here in weightlessness they stay extended and from a distance they do not look sick. Perhaps my symptoms, thus masked, were not observed by Gardener as soon as they would have been if we were on Earth. Gardener is beside himself and is working hard to find a solution. This is not good; I feel in my roots that I may soon be going to the Great Compost in the ground.

March 10
Sunflower’s leaves are covered with brown spots. Both he and I are not feeling well. Broccoli seems to be doing OK. My gardener says it is something in the tea. The brown fringe on my leaves is growing. They do not sing anymore.

March 11
Broccoli is not doing well. His leaves are turning yellow. The brown spots on Sunflower are growing. We are dying from some space malady. Gardener is frantically working to save us. I have heard that there is nothing to fear about the Great Compost. My only regret is that I will not be here on the frontier to help in this mission.

March 13
A planet suffering from some malady in space. Credit: Don Pettit
My gardener figured out what was the matter and is working on a solution. It is the sour tea that we feed on. He told me it will take several days before the new tea is ready; these encouraging words are helping Broccoli, Sunflower and me to hold on. In the meantime, we have been repotted into new plastic bags and have a strict only-water diet. I understand when a gardener gets sick, sometimes they have to go on a diet. The compost tea is made mostly from vegetable scraps from their food pouches. He said their food has a lot of sodium in it, up to 1000 milligrams per serving and they eat 10 to 12 servings per day. This salt ends up in the compost tea and then goes on our roots. Sodium salts are very soluble in water and wash out from the soil thus ending up in the ocean. Potassium salts are less soluble and stay in the soil. Creatures that originated from the ocean live with sodium and use it for their essential membrane transport processes. Creatures that originated from the land use potassium and find high levels of sodium toxic. Ocean creatures, when they walk on the land, have to carry their sodium with them their bodies. Interesting how creatures adapt to what is found in their environment and what works well for one is toxic to the other.

March 15
I float on the edge of the brown abyss. My leaves have fallen off and I am merely a stalk. I am stripped of my call sign “Rose” let alone even being a zucchini. Sunflower has lost his leaves and now looks like a tangled piece of green yarn. Broccoli has only yellow leaves. I have one root in the Great Compost. I have heard that you should follow the dark. Call on me tomorrow and you shall find me compost!

Diary of a Space Zucchini
Apr 24, 2012 03:27:24 PM | Don Pettit


March 20
There was a time where I had no memory; I thought this must be the Great Compost. Since waking I heard Gardener talking to me about what happened. We were transplanted once again into new plastic bags. Our stems and roots were trimmed. Our water diet was replaced with a new tea, one that is not salty. Our roots are happy drinking this new concoction. It is actually quite pleasant and is free from that sour taste. It makes me smile. I noticed that Sunflower and Broccoli are still with us and we are all part of the crew. We may be leafless stalks but are sprouting new tiny leaf-buds. They are a vibrant green and brought a smile to Gardener’s face. Did I notice a small bit of water in the corner of his eyes? Oh the magic in a topical meristem. Plants have an incredible capacity to regenerate, something that Gardener says he cannot do. I have a meristem on top that generates new leaves and a meristem below that generates new roots. As long as these meristems live, we can regenerate ourselves. There are perils when you explore, when you venture off into the space frontier. You go into the unknown where the answers are no longer in the back of the book. You observe, thus gathering new knowledge to share with all those plants that remain firmly root-bound on the Earth. And sometimes the price is paid with leaf and stem.

March 21
Gardener, Commander Burbank and the rest of the human crew closed all the hatches on the International Space Station before taking shelter in their Soyuz spacecraft. Broc, Sunflower and I stayed behind. Credit: Don Pettit/NASA
We are getting stronger every day. Both my meristems are generating new leaves and roots. Sunflower and Broccoli are too. Soon, we will be ready to carry on our duties as active crew. This new tea is actually quite nice, my roots are happy. I wonder what the new tea is made from?

March 22
I overheard my gardener talking to his crewmates about the new tea. He was reluctant to say how it was made. He said it was an ancient recipe, “Don’t ask, don’t tell”

March 23
We are recovering, growing greener every day. I still only have only four tiny leaves but am able to return to my crew duties. Sunflower grows his leaves in pairs and now has two. Broccoli is in the best shape with a bunch of new leaves coming out. For such a weak sproutling, he is one tough crewmate. It is good to have him along.

March 24
We got a radio call from my gardener’s gardener at 03:50, which woke everyone from a deep Saturday morning sleep. A piece of space junk, an old rocket body, was on a possible collision course with our spaceship. All hands on alert!

We had to prepare for an emergency evacuation. The chance of a collision was small but would be devastating so we had to prepare. As a precaution, we closed every hatch on our spaceship leading up to where our escape capsule was docked. This took about half an hour. When closing the last hatch leading from the Laboratory module, I volunteered to stay behind with Sunflower and Broccoli. We may be sporting small leaves but we are here standing tall, ready to do our job. Somebody had to stay behind to take care of the spaceship. With all the hatches closed and the ventilation turned off, it became real quiet, and stuffy too. In weightlessness, there is no buoyancy driven convection thus the cabin air remains stagnant. The droning of fans operating 24 hours a day are required to keep the air stirred and of uniform composition. I have heard Gardener say that when working behind a rack or some confined place where there is no circulation, a pocket of carbon dioxide can build up and give him a headache. Sometimes he will set up a small portable fan when working in such a place. He should take Sunflower, Broccoli, or me with him and perhaps he would not need the fan. Thus sealed in the Laboratory module for the collision safe haven, there was no air movement of any kind and we felt the oxygen building up around our leaves. If this lasted too long we might suffocate for lack of carbon dioxide. The space junk passed without hitting us. When my crew opened the hatch and ventured back into the module, we were able to greet them with a small breath of fresh air.


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