RHS rocket seeds relaunch into space


The beginning of September saw 2kg of rocket seeds (Eruca sativa) launched into space, where they will spend the next few months on board the International Space Station (ISS) before being returned to the UK for a nationwide experiment.

The launch follows a crash of the previous spacecraft that was taking the seeds into orbit. The seeds were due to arrive at the ISS on 4 September, and were successfully launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on Soyuz 44S – the flight that is delivering European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen and his crew to the ISS. They will be returned to Earth with Scott Kelly, planned for March 2016.

The seeds have been sent as part of Rocket Science, an educational project launched by the RHS Campaign for School Gardening and the UK Space Agency. The project will allow up to 10,000 schools the chance to grow these seeds in 2016 for a UK-wide science experiment which will also enable young inquisitive minds to think more about how we could preserve human life on another planet in the future.

Official applications for teaching resource packs containing the seeds will open on Monday 14th September for schools that have pre-registered their interest. Applications will then open for remaining schools on Monday 21th September if remaining packs are available. Schools can still pre-register their interest on the RHS Campaign for School Gardening website up until Monday 14 September. Two teaser resources, a literacy exercise for primary aged pupils and a science lesson on genetics for secondary students, will also be made available online for schools to download.

The 2kg of seeds that flew today are replacements for the ones that were lost when the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Space X 7 cargo spacecraft exploded shortly after launch on 28th June 2015.

To coincide with the project, a team of European Space Agency (ESA) scientists working on the MELiSSA project has created a list of the top 10 plants to grow in space, offering an insightful guide to providing food and maintaining psychological wellbeing for future astronauts.

For any keen gardeners looking to grow some of these crops at home, scientists at the RHS have also suggested some Earth-grown cultivars that could be grown on an alien planet. These included: Soybean; potato; rice soft white wheat; tomato; spinach; lettuce; beetroot; onion; and spirulina.

Guy Barter, RHS chief horticultural advisor, said: “As our understanding of growing conditions in space increases, along with the technology to make it possible, it’s fantastic that through the RHS Rocket Science project children are being given the chance to share in this voyage of discovery. The top 10 plants for space list should definitely provide food for thought for budding space explorers, as well as amateur gardeners at home.”

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