ASU Plants on Space Station

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ASU Gets NASA Grant to Grow Plants on the U.S. Space Station
By: Kenneth Mullinax/ASU.

Alabama State University's mustard greens are soon to be out of this world...for real.

Mustard green plants are widely grown and consumed in the Deep South, but a grant from NASA will soon have ASU's greens growing and eaten beyond the bounds of earth --- specifically in the U.S. Space Station, thanks to a grant awarded to Dr. Komal Vig, professor of Microbiology at ASU. The $100,000 NASA grant is titled “Improved Drought Tolerance of Mustard Greens with Atmospheric Pressure Plasma.”

"With limited or no water being expended to grow the greens, we are perfecting a method to irrigate them with a special plasma that we are now perfecting in my ASU lab - with the help from our student interns - which is composed of a combination of many things that include the Noble gases of argon and helium,” Vig said. ”This project aims to study drought stress using ‘Amara’ mustard greens and if and how treatment with atmospheric pressure plasma can improve the plant’s drought tolerance and nutritional load.”

This project will be a collaboration among investigators at Alabama State University (ASU), the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and Alabama A&M University (AAMU). The team combines expertise and lab capabilities in microbiology and genetics (ASU), plasma science and technology (UAH), and agriculture (AAMU).

NASA scientists explained that water is used for multiple purposes in a 'crewed' space mission including drinking, cleaning, food preparation, and oxygen production for respiration and rocket fuel. Because of a high demand for water in so many instances and the desire for crews to have fresh vegetables for consumption of crop-plants that are grown on the Space Station, this experiment was born. In plants, water deficiency decreases the total nutrient uptake and concentration of nutrients in plant tissues. One of the main purposes of the ASU experiment is to produce mustard greens with a good nutrient value.

NASA data explains that as human space exploration advances, crop-plants will play an important role in a sustained human presence in space, on the moon, and on Mars. Crop-plants such as leafy greens and fresh vegetables provide nutrients, varied textures and flavors, and contribute to astronauts’ mental health. 

"Growing plants in the engineered environment of space habitats can introduce multiple abiotic stresses that can impact the plant’s growth and nutritional value that is the nexus of the grant's goal, which is to grow them with little or no traditional moisture, yet still with a good level of nutritional value," stated NASA officials.


Vig explained that this is one of the first times that ASU has worked with an experiment aboard the U.S. Space Station.

Vig in lab alobe with colorful background (2).jpg"At ASU, the focus of this grant will be on genetic studies to investigate how plasma can change the gene profile of a plant and help it in resisting drought. These studies will enable us to grow plants on the Space Station under very limited water conditions. This grant is an initial award that will fund the preliminary work in this exciting field of Space Science experiments with an aim to get more funding for ASU next year from NASA," stated Vig. "I am not aware of a previous time that the University has been involved in an experiment on the Space Station that involved the growth of plants."



News media contact: Kenneth Mullinax, 334-229-4104.