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NASA to Grow Cotton on International Space Station

Shipra Singh
Shipra Singh
International Space Station (ISS)

Cotton is grown abundantly in countries like India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and others. But have you heard of cotton being grown in the space?  

Yes, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is conducting an experiment to grow cotton on the International Space Station (ISS), which is orbiting the Earth 400 km above it. The objective of the experiment is to see how cotton crop grows in space where there is no gravity.  

Cotton is a staple cash crop all around the world. Do you know the entire world produces about 25 million tonnes of cotton every year?  

About the cotton experiment 

The cotton experiment will be carried out by Expedition65 of NASA. The experiment is meant to investigate the root system of the crop. Scientists want to find out to what extent cotton’s root system influences water-use efficiency, stress resilience, and carbon sequestration. Scientists believe that these properties are associated with a good root system that goes deeper into the soil and explores it better to take in nutrients and water. These patterns of root penetration are linked to gravity.  

Now, with the absence of gravity, scientists wish to find out how the root system would behave and to what extend it would affect the overall growth and development of the cotton crop.  

The main questions that scientists wish to find answers to include: 

  • What happens to the cotton crop when there is no gravitational force?

  • What genes and environmental factors play a role in the development of root system?

NASA is expecting to find answers to these questions through the cotton-growing experiment on ISS. It is anticipated that NASA might reveal answers to these questions after October when Expedition65 ends.  

A US retail store Target has sponsored this experiment. Perhaps, that’s the reason this experiment is named “Target-ing Improved Cotton Through On-Orbit Cultivation.” 

Why emphasis on root system? 

According to botany professor Simon Gilroy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, roots play a vital role in the growth and development of a plant. Obviously, when the roots are weak and unhealthy, you cannot expect the plant go grow strong and healthy. It all starts from the root.  

Researchers are more interested in studying the AVP1 gene. They believe that this gene is linked to a bigger root system, which enables cotton plants to yield more fiber even in conditions of drought and high salt levels. Typically, formation of root is directly proportionate to the gravitational force.  

The ISS experiment will help scientists observe how roots develop in the absence of gravity, how they adapt to the new environment, and how this can be used on planet Earth, which is under global warming and a threat to unpredictable changes in the climate.  

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