Operations of a spaceflight experiment to investigate plant tropisms
Kiss, John Z., et al. (2009). "Operations of a spaceflight experiment to investigate plant tropisms." Advances in Space Research 44 8: 879-886
Plants will be an important component in bioregenerative systems for long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. Since gravity is reduced both on the Moon and Mars, studies that identify the basic mechanisms of plant growth and development in altered gravity are required to ensure successful plant production on these space colonization missions. To address these issues, we have developed a project on the International Space Station (ISS) to study the interaction between gravitropism and phototropism in Arabidopsis thaliana. These experiments were termed TROPI (for tropisms) and were performed on the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) in 2006. In this paper, we provide an operational summary of TROPI and preliminary results on studies of tropistic curvature of seedlings grown in space. Seed germination in TROPI was lower compared to previous space experiments, and this was likely due to extended storage in hardware for up to 8 months. Video downlinks provided an important quality check on the automated experimental time line that also was monitored with telemetry. Good quality images of seedlings were obtained, but the use of analog video tapes resulted in delays in image processing and analysis procedures. Seedlings that germinated exhibited robust phototropic curvature. Frozen plant samples were returned on three space shuttle missions, and improvements in cold stowage and handing procedures in the second and third missions resulted in quality RNA extracted from the seedlings that was used in subsequent microarray analyses. While the TROPI experiment had technical and logistical difficulties, most of the procedures worked well due to refinement during the project.