May science grow from NASA’s moon seeds

01/03/2014 10:15:00 AM
Chuck Robinson

Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy ChiefChuck Robinson, Assistant Copy ChiefIn December, NPR carried a story on NASA’s plans to try to grow rock cress, turnips and basil on the moon.

Perhaps this smaller-scale experiment, meant to be a stepping stone to one day having people live on the moon, will spark an admiration for science and scientists that seems to have dried up since the 1960s.

As a gardener, I love that NASA is trying to make plants grow on this spheroid with only a sixth of Earth’s gravity and the wild flucutations in temperature from 150 degrees below zero to 150 degrees above zero.

Myself, I keep getting ideas from gardening books by English or Pacific Northwest authors and trying to grow plants that thrive there but are due for a serious shock when our Midwestern summer hits in August.

Tough? No, it is nearly impossible.

NASA has taken my “nearly impossible” and raised the ante by a staggering amount.

Their solution is to grow the seeds in coffee can-sized cannisters that weigh only a kilogram each but can regulate light and temperature and have cameras to monitor the progress.

It won’t head to the moon until 2015, but I hope it zooms around our imaginations plenty before then.

We need a spark to ignite some fervor for science. I feel science isn’t much respected, judging from fights over state school standards in my neck of the woods and other signs.

I remember President George W. Bush setting sights on one day sending a manned mission to Mars and getting roundly chided for it. It was called political theater. The president wasn’t regarded as an intellectual but I think he got the magic of science that a trip to Mars would engender.

Maybe he also felt that our society has a regretfully dimishing regard for science.

One sign that scientists are not much respected nowadays are the responses to any article that mentions genetically modified organisms.

Each story gets hundreds of clicks. It is like throwing fish food into a small pond of goldfish. It’s a frenzy.

It is funny that no matter who creates a genetically modified product it is Monsanto that gets the blame.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits got mostly a free ride in comments on this site about the nonbrowning Arctic apple the Summerland, British Columbia-based company hopes will get approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I sipped a lot of Tang during my childhood in the 1960s. Tang is an orange-flavored drink mix formulated by General Foods Corp. that was famously touted as the drink of astronauts.

John Glenn drank it on his Mercury flight. I recall it being advertised as the drink of the Apollo astronauts. We sipped through it bendy straws while watching the 1969 moon landing on TV.

Our middle class household had Tang, a vacuum cleaner shaped like Saturn and a zillion reminders of where science was taking us.

Of course, today our cell phones should be reminders of where science and technology can take us, but I think we take them for granted. Much like I take having crunchy apples months after harvest. Thank you, controlled atmosphere storage technology.

So I intend to enjoy watching this grand experiment of growing plants on the moon. I hope to draw some of my grandnieces and grandnephews around, get them science-related toys and encourage them to be amazed.

crobinson@thepacker.com

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