Could astronauts soon be making their own bread in space? Scientists at
Kennedy Space Center will get their first detailed look at how exposure to
space affects wheat plant growth over a period of time, and compare the
results of the experiment with the growth rate and behavior of plants on

When Space Shuttle Atlantis launches from KSC on mission STS-110, April 4,
it will carry more than seven astronauts and hardware bound for the
International Space Station. KSC’s most complex plant experiment, PESTO
(Photosynthesis Experiment and System Testing and Operation) also will make
the trek to the Station.

The PESTO experiment will travel in a Biomass Production System (BPS) inside
Atlantis’ crew compartment during flight. The 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 was
developed for NASA by Orbital Technologies Corp.

Once the Space Shuttle has docked with the Station, mission specialists will
transfer PESTO to the Station’s Destiny Lab where it will remain for at
least 61 days in orbit. PESTO will study and determine whether wheat plants
will produce oxygen during photosynthesis, and purify water through
transpiration, at the same rates as on Earth.

“The PESTO experiment will test the performance of wheat plants in space
using critical measurements in a similar way that one might test a race car
engine for horsepower of fuel economy,” said David Cox, project manager for
NASA’s PESTO project. “Plants are a crucial part of the ecological system
that supports human life. This research will provide important knowledge
necessary for future interplanetary travel as well as provide additional
insight into crop growth here on Earth.”

While PESTO is not the first plant experiment in space, it is the first
plant experiment that will be grown under well-controlled conditions, for
long periods of time, for the sole purpose of understanding life support
functions in space. PESTO was developed to bring together the knowledge
gained from lessons learned during previous science and education
experiments on relatively short Space Shuttle missions, as well as on
Russia’s space station Mir.

The experiment, designed by a team of scientists from NASA and Dynamac Corp.
at KSC, has important implications for future long-duration spaceflight and
will be followed by additional experiments on the Station. Dynamac Corp. is
KSC’s Life Sciences contractor.

Dynamac Corp.’s principal investigator for the PESTO experiment, Dr. Gary
Stutte said, “We at KSC spend much of our time helping researchers process
and integrate their life sciences payloads, so it’s especially rewarding to
have the opportunity to perform this experiment.”

He continued, “It’s been a privilege to work with such a dedicated team of
scientists and engineers to make this experiment a reality.”

The PESTO experiment is part of NASA’s Fundamental Biology Research Program
and is funded by a grant from NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical
Research. The PESTO experiment involves people from around the country
including KSC, Ames Research Center, and the Orbital Technologies Corp.

Although much of the PESTO experiment is automated, the astronaut crew will
periodically monitor it, harvest the wheat twice on orbit and start up two
additional growth cycles.

Amber waves of grain may soon be more than just a novelty in space.

PESTO will return to Earth on the STS-111 mission currently targeted for
launch in late May 2002.