Seeds come from space to grow in classroom
May 12 2008
MAYS LANDING - Figuring
out how to feed crews on long space missions is one of the more
practical considerations of space travel.
But will they like pesto?
Students at the Atlantic County Institute of
Technology are growing basil as part of a NASA Seeds from Space
program to study how food might be grown on a space colony.
Using cinnamon basil seeds that traveled to the International
Space Station, science teacher Melissa Hannan and her students
combined aquaculture and hydroponics to create a system that
provides both fish and herbs.
The project gives students hands-on lessons that
could be applied to several programs offered at the school.
Informational technology students in Mark Gresham's physics
class used 3-D computer modeling to design the system. Fred
Cramer's carpentry class built the tanks. Les Keeper's chemistry
class coordinates chemical testing. Hannan's environmental
science class monitors the daily progress of the plants.
The process involved some trial and error.
Students designed a clever system to grow plants in PVC tubing
elevated on plastic arches in fish tanks.
"But the first (arches)
fell over," said junior William Tustin, of Mays Landing. "They
were too flimsy, and they collapsed under the weight."
They were reinforced and are doing well. James
Adams, of Egg Harbor Township, said they also simplified the
design over time to take into consideration transportation and
potential repairs in space.
"We wanted to keep it light and simple so if it
breaks, it would be easy to fix," he said.
Junior Mark Basile, of Egg Harbor Township, got
the idea for the PVC tubing from his uncle, who also used it to
grow seedlings. The basil seedlings are just starting to peek
through their pods, and the students included some more
established plants to see how they adapt.
Chase Pippin, of Egg Harbor Township, a student
in the culinary program, noted that the color of the established
basil has changed in the hydroponic setting.
"We're going to make some food with the results
and see how they taste," he said.
Students are also monitoring a "control tank"
that includes a similar setup, but no fish, and seeds that came
not from space, but from Burt's Bees, which provided them as
part of a program to grow flowers that attract bees.
"We're going to plant them outside later," Elisha
Muniz, of East Vineland said. "We're doing more than just one
The space tank also includes some blue gills,
whose waste serves as fertilizer for the plants. Tustin said
they ran a math simulation that indicated they could vacuum
compress a year's supply of fish food to about the size of a
pack of gum so it would take up little space in the shuttle.
Douglas Williams, of Egg Harbor Township, is part
of a team that tests for nitrates and phosphates in both tanks
every two days.
Hannan said the idea of growing space food really
captured the students' interest - even students not in her class
show up during their free periods to help out. The process also
involves daily record-keeping, and Hannan will have to submit a
final report on their results to NASA.
"It's really a lot of work, almost like a
thesis," she said. "We've got 60 pages of data so far."
The students are already working on phase two - a
project to pressurize the tank to see how the plants grow in a
To e-mail Diane D'Amico at
The Press: DDamico@pressofac.com
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