The Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a NASA Commercial Space Center
with partners in industry and academia, is dedicated to helping industry
explore the possibilities.

the help of NASA’s Space Product Development Program at the Marshall
Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, this Commercial Space Center
has developed a series of plant growth units dedicated to plant biotechnology
research sponsored by industry. The plant growth units are designed
especially to operate in the microgravity environment created as the
Space Station orbits Earth.

This is the first plant growth facility installed in the International
Space Station. The ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™ fills two middeck lockers
and builds on a smaller experiment flown on eight previous Space Shuttle
flights and Space Station Mir.

The objectives of the first ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™ experiment
are as follows:

  • Whether Arabidopsis, a member of the Brassica plant family that
    includes species such as cabbage and radishes, can complete its seed-to-seed
    life cycle in microgravity
  • The impact of microgravity on the gene expression levels, which
    consist of the plant’s genetic traits
  • Compare the chemical characteristics of the seeds produced in space
    with those harvested on Earth

Explorers Inc., the commercial partner for this investigation, specializes
in producing Internet-based, space education programs. Space Explorers
has created and marketed the "Orbital Laboratory" program,
which is a school kit and Internet multi-media educational program that
allows students to design, conduct, and analyze the space experiment
on the International Space Station. Using the kit, students can compare
data through an online student experiment database. After the experiment
is finished on the Space Station, students can use actual data from
the experiment to recreate the experiment in a virtual environment.

The program is the first-ever, student-designed experiment aboard the
Station, and the first of a series of commercial payloads used for educational
purposes by Space Explorers. The program is being marketed to the kindergarten
through high school education community worldwide. For a special price,
schools can purchase a kit containing the necessary materials to conduct
the plant experiment. They also receive access to the Orbital Laborator¬¯°±D
curricula, plant data from the ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™ experiment
on board the Station, and data from other participating schools worldwide.
As part of the program, they can participate in Web chats with personnel
involved in the mission and have access to many other program features.
The product will also be sold as a retail product for home schools and

Starting with Space Station Expedition Two, plant scientists will be
able to conduct long-term plant research in a microgravity environment.
They will be able to study the entire plant life cycle — from seeds
to plants to seeds.

To accomplish this, the ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™ provides a completely
enclosed, environmentally controlled plant growth chamber that was successfully
demonstrated by ASTROCULTURE™ during Shuttle and Mir missions.
The growth chamber is larger, enabling plants to grow bigger. The ADVANCED
ASTROCULTURE™ controls temperature, humidity, light, atmospheric
conditions, and delivery of nutrients to plants. It requires no power
during Shuttle ascent and descent.

Before the flight, scientists planted seeds in a root tray using a
dry rooting material similar to peat moss. The seed tray was attached
to the ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™ growth chamber. Reservoirs in the
growth unit were loaded with water and nutrient solutions that plants
need to live while aboard the Space Station.

The equipment is configured as two middeck lockers that insert separately
into a Space Station EXPRESS Rack. One locker contains the support systems
and the other contains the plant growth chamber and ancillary hardware.
This arrangement allows the support system to remain on board, while
the Shuttle transports plant growth units to and from the Space Station
with different experiments.

units were placed aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor for the STS-100
mission that launched April 19, 2001, and docked with the Space Station
during Flight 6A. The crew moved the two middeck lockers to the U.S.
Laboratory Module, Destiny, and installed the lockers in the top shelves
of EXPRESS Rack No. 1. The crew will activate the growth chamber by
turning on the temperature and humidity control unit.

The system will automatically deliver fluid and nutrients to the root
tray, and the seeds will germinate. The ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™
will operate automatically for approximately two months. During the
plant growth period, the crew will sample nutrients, gases and plant
transpiration inside the plant growth chamber three times — early,
middle, and late in the experiment. After the flight, investigators
can analyze the samples to determine how healthy the plants were during
various growth phases.

a routine basis, the crew will monitor the plants’ status by checking
displays on the front panel of the support system unit and by observing
the plant video. Science telemetry and video from the ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™
will be transmitted to scientists in their operations center at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison via the Telescience Resource Kit (TReK)

At thirty days, or about halfway into the experiment, the crew will
replenish the nutrient solution by refilling the nutrient reservoir
to maintain the desired concentration of nutrients. The experiment will
end in about 50 to 55 days when the plants are expected to produce mature
seeds. The growth unit along with the enclosed plants will be returned
to Earth at the end of Expedition Two on Space Shuttle Discovery on
the STS-105 mission, ISS Flight 7A.1. After landing, the growth unit
will be returned to scientists for analysis.

The Space Shuttle will deliver a second growth unit containing a different
species of plant to the Space Station two months later during Expedition
Four, ISS Flight UF1. The support system will remain installed in EXPRESS
Rack No. 1 inside Destiny between growth chamber flights. It will be
returned to Earth every one to two years for refurbishment.

This is the first Space Station experiment in which plants will be
grown long enough to determine if they can produce seeds, and if those
seeds can be used to grow more plants. Since the Space Station will
remain in orbit for longer than a decade, it provides an ideal laboratory
for growing plants and studying the influence gravity has played as
plants evolved on Earth.