Growing Potato Tubers in Space

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  • 1 1Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706
  • | 2 2Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899

Leaf cuttings from 6-week-old potato plants were planted into the Astroculture flight unit for the STS-73 shuttle flight in Oct. 1995. Tubers developed in the axils of the five leaf cuttings during the 16-days in microgravity. The flight unit had a closed growth chamber maintained at 22°C, 82% relative humidity, 150 μmol·m–2·s–1 photosynthetic photon flux, and with carbon dioxide controlled during the light period to ≈400 μmol·mol–1 and exceeding 4000 μmol·mol–1 during the dark period. A controlled delivery system using a porous tube system in arcillite medium provided water to the cuttings. A camera mounted in the top of the chamber provided video images of the plants at 2-day intervals. The cuttings maintained good vitality for the first 12 days of the flight followed by senescence of the leaves. Tubers 1.5 cm in diameter and weighing 1.7 g were produced. The shape and size of the tubers, the internal cell arrangement, and the size range of the starch grains, were similar on cuttings developed in a control experiment on the ground. Also the concentrations of starch, sucrose, fructose, glucose, and total soluble protein in the cuttings from space were similar to the cuttings developed on the ground. The challenges in scheduling experiments in a space flight and in conducting comparison control experiments on the ground are discussed. Environment control variations associated with cabin pressure changes, venting requirements, and air sampling are reviewed.

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