Christmas Kalanchoë in Space

Kalanchoë on my window sill. © Karen Andrews

Christmas Kalanchoë offers a welcome range of colourful flowers in the home during Advent. It has travelled to us all the way from Madagascar. Are you aware that this plant has travelled all the way into space too?

Morale Boost

You can understand why Kalanchoë was chosen to accompany astronauts into space. It is relatively easy to grow and carries a water supply in its succulent leaves. Soviet cosmonauts carried out scientific experiments in a little greenhouse called Oasis. An unplanned positive was that plants improved crew morale. The cosmonauts treated them like pets. When a Kalanchoë plant was sent up in 1971, it gained celebrity status by appearing in shot for all TV transmissions.

Scientific Questions

There was a serious scientific purpose in including plants in the manned space missions. Questions surround how mankind will survive in space in ever-longer, future missions. How will potential colonies feed themselves in orbit or based on the moon or planets? Crews need to recycle oxygen, find water and grow crops in zero or weak gravity.

Gravity and Water

The early experiments did not enjoy great success. Seedlings sprouted, but died. They withered once they had exhausted the nutrients available inside their seeds. Plants that continued growing were much smaller than their equivalents on Earth. Watering was a challenge. Zero gravity prevented the even distribution of water to roots. Gravity pulls water downwards on Earth. In space, watering resulted in both waterlogging and drought at the same time. Water could be close to roots but was not drawn up.

First Seeds

Decades passed. Greenhouses and watering systems were redesigned. Air quality improved. Years later, there was the first seed production success with Arabidopsis.

The Future?

The ultimate aim is to make it possible for astronauts to feed themselves, no matter how far they may be from Earth. There is still a long way to go even for a modest, self-grown salad. Nonetheless, the space-travelling Kalanchoë will have played an important role on the road to that ambition.

Pink Kalanchoë with buds and succulent leaves © Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close