Scientists at NASA Ames Research Center have received the first images
of plants growing aboard the International Space Station (ISS). They
also have acquired the ability to send commands to the orbiting
plant-growth system. Astronauts transferred the Biomass Production
System to the ISS from the space shuttle Atlantis last week.

The Biomass Production System (BPS) is an engineering development unit
for a future ISS plant habitat capable of supporting long-term plant
growth and botanical experimentation in space. The BPS and science
samples will return to Earth on the STS-111 space shuttle mission,
currently scheduled for a late May launch.

“BPS is a versatile piece of hardware and the team is excited about
this first chance to test its capabilities on orbit in support of
current and future science experiments,” said Dr. Randy Berthold,
BPS payload manager at NASA Ames. The BPS is one of several pieces
of science hardware being developed by the Space Station Biological
Research Project at NASA Ames, in California’s Silicon Valley, for
use on the space station.

“Although the BPS is the third suite of flight hardware NASA Ames has
provided to the ISS, this marks the first time Ames has controlled
any of the hardware from the ground,” Berthold said. A 2001 space
shuttle mission carried an autonomous radiation monitoring and
recording system to the ISS. Later that year, the Avian Development
Facility was carried on a mission to the ISS, although the facility
remained on board the space shuttle.

Each day, the BPS team sends commands to the unit and retrieves the
previous day’s data files, seven in all. Pictures of the plants
included in these files help the investigators determine how well
the plants are developing. Commands also can be sent to the BPS to
change the timeline for automated activities that were programmed
into the unit preflight.

The BPS is a powered hardware system that includes four independent
plant-growth chambers, a nutrient delivery system, a
temperature/humidity control system, airflow and atmospheric control
systems, a video system and a data-processing system. The BPS was
developed for NASA by Orbital Technologies Corp., Madison, Wisc.

The primary objective of the BPS is the technology validation test,
which will determine how well the BPS and its environmental control
subsystems support plant growth and development in microgravity. The
best subsystems will be used to design and develop a permanent plant
research unit capable of supporting the continued growth and
development of plant specimens for 90 days or more on orbit.

The BPS testing process uses Apogee wheat and Brassica rapa plants.
Brassica includes such common vegetables as broccoli, cabbage and
cauliflower. The multiple developmental stages (growth, flowering
and seedpod production) of Brassica test the ability of the BPS to
support the growth of a developmentally complex plant. Dr. Robert
Morrow, Orbital Technologies Corp., Madison, Wisc., is the
principal investigator.

The BPS also supports the Photosynthesis Experiment and System
Testing Operations (PESTO), which studies the growth, photosynthesis,
gas exchange and metabolism of Apogee wheat in microgravity. The
PESTO principal investigator is Dr. Gary Stutte, Dynamac Corp.,
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Understanding photosynthesis is a critical component of plant-based
atmospheric regeneration systems now under study for possible use in
future long-duration space missions. By generating oxygen, removing
carbon dioxide and purifying water, living plants could help maintain
proper spacecraft atmosphere, and reduce the costs of air and water
resupply. This research also will have direct application to future
production of crops that the ISS crew could eat, such as lettuce,
radishes or onions.

BPS testing and research are supported by NASA’s Office of Biological
and Physical Research, which promotes basic and applied research to
support human exploration of space and to take advantage of the space
environment as a laboratory. More information is available at:

Information about NASA’s Space Station Biological Research Project is
available at:


NOTE TO EDITORS: News media representatives are invited to visit the
Telescience Support Center (building N244, room 203B) at NASA Ames
Research Center on Thursday, April 18, from 11 a.m. to noon PDT.
Scientists at NASA Ames assumed command and control of the Biomass
Production System, an engineering development unit on the International
Space Station, on April 12. First images of the wheat and Brassica
plants growing in space were received later that day. To get to NASA
Ames, take the Moffett Field exit from U.S. Highway 101. Stop at the
visitor badging office adjacent to the front gate to receive a badge
and map to building N-244. Foreign media representatives must call Ann
Hutchison in advance to arrange for entry to Ames.

[NOTE: Images supporting this release are available at]