Bio · Earthly/Geo/Astro · Eco/Adaptable · Vital-Edible-Health

Extraterrestrial Salads Soon? Plants in Space Prove Gravity Unnecessary For Normal Growth

When a seed is planted in the ground, the roots tend to grow downward in search of water and nutrients. But what happens when there is no “down” for the roots to grow? Scientists sent seeds to the International Space Station and were surprised to see what plants did without gravity to guide their roots downward.

The scientists ran their experiment on Arabidopsis plants—a go-to species for plant biologists. The control group was germinated and grown at the Kennedy Space Center (A), while the comparative group was housed on the International Space Station (B). For 15 days, researchers took pictures of the plants at six-hour intervals and compared them. Their results surprised even them: the plants in space exhibited the same growth patterns as those on Earth.

The researchers were looking for two specific patterns of root growth: waving and skewing. With waving, the root tips grow back and forth, much like waves. Skewing occurs when a plant’s roots grow at an angle, rather than straight down. Scientists don’t know exactly why these root behaviors occur, but gravity was thought to be the driving force for both.

This experiment disproved the widely accepted gravity-based theory. Although the orbiting plants grew more slowly than their terrestrial counterparts, skewing showed up equally in both groups of plants. Waving was much less pronounced in the roots of the ISS plants but still present. These results [pdf] published in BMC Plant Biology last week, demonstrate that gravity is not necessarily the key component in determining a plant’s growth pattern. In fact, gravity doesn’t even seem to be necessary for these patterns to occur at all. Scientists are now looking to other forces such as moisture, nutrients, and light avoidance to explain why roots grow the way they do.

An article written by Breanna Draxler at Discover. All text and image via Discover
Top Image via Wired

Digital Media · Earthly/Geo/Astro · Technology

OWW: Orbit Wide Web (Interplanetary Internet)

HAVING helped spread the internet’s tentacles across the globe, boffins are now thinking of extending them further. Assorted space agencies believe it would be rather nifty if the world wide web encompassed more of the world than just one planet. Those at the European Space Agency (ESA) are therefore designing an interplanetary network, which might help space stations, planetary rovers, astronauts and ground stations communicate more effectively.

In October they are planning to test just such a network by getting an astronaut in the International Space Station (ISS) to control a rover on Earth. This will be a test of the technology for use on future Mars missions. They are also exploring the possibility of creating a universal information-exchange system, allowing many of the different space agencies to share data quickly.

Nestor Peccia, who heads ground-software development at the ESA, says that the main challenges are more political than technological. An interplanetary web’s assets, like Earth ground stations, relay satellites, rovers, moon stations, etc, will probably belong to national space agencies. Government agencies may be reluctant to share them with others and it may be a while before enough space entrepreneurs like Elon Musk stump up the amounts of money need in to mimic Earth-bound internet’s decentralised charm in orbit.

These would be considerable. It tends to cost around $50m just to launch a single satellite, not counting design and construction, though Mr Musk’s company, SpaceX, may yet bring that down. And a fully fledged interplanetary web would need a sizeable flotilla.

For now, orbital internet is limited to the ISS. Since January 2010 its astronauts have had access to so-called Crew Support LAN, which uses satellites to provide a brisk, reliable internet connection. Before, going online in orbit was a hassle. E-mails, tweets and other online exchanges had to be relayed through a colleague on Earth, hardly ideal, especially for intimate communications. The current system has undoubtedly improved the quality of life in the ISS, helping to ease the sense of isolation. It is a far cry from interplanetary social networking. But it is a start.

Text and Image via The Economist

Science · Technology · Vital-Edible-Health

Science off the Sphere: Bistronauts

International Space Station Expedition 30 astronaut Don Pettit demonstrates physics in space for ‘Science off the Sphere.’ Through a partnership between NASA and the American Physical Society you can participate in Pettit’s physics challenge and view future experiments here: http://www.physicscentral.com/sots

The crew aboard the International Space Station try out a novel new
design in microgravity teacup technology.

Earthly/Geo/Astro · Technology

Switzerland to Build ‘Janitor Satellite’ to Clean Up Space

Earth is surrounded by a cloud of more than half a million pieces of space junk, from bus-size spent rocket stages to tiny flecks of paint. Orbiting at breakneck speeds, every last bit poses grave dangers — and means huge insurance premiums — for operational satellites, and it threatens the International Space Station, too. Every time two orbiting objects collide, they break up into thousands more pieces of debris.

To combat this growing headache, Swiss scientists and engineers have announced the launch of CleanSpace One, a project to build the first in a family of “janitor” satellites that will help clean up space.

To be launched as soon as three to five years from now, CleanSpace One will rendezvous with one of two defunct objects in orbit, either the Swisscube picosatellite, or its cousin TIsat, both 1,000 cubic centimeters (61 cubic inches) in size. When the janitor satellite reaches its target, it will extend a grappling arm, grab it and then plunge into Earth’s atmosphere, burning up itself and the space junk during re-entry.

Via Life’s Little Mysteries. Continue HERE

Space Debris

How many Satellites Are Currently In Orbit Video

A quick history of satellites in space