They've measured and weighed plants, counted seeds, and collected additional physical information from the first-ever soybean crop grown aboard the orbiting research laboratory.
Now, the research team will begin several months of chemical and biological tests on the plants that will reveal whether microgravity - the low-gravity environment inside the Space Station -- has changed the chemical make-up of the seeds.
Soybeans -- a leading source of protein in the human diet -- are used in a wide variety of products, from oil to crayons. Finding improved varieties could have a significant economic impact on a soybean business worth billions of dollars each year.
"We want to examine the seeds produced by plants grown on the Station to see if they have any unique, desirable traits," said Dr. Tom Corbin, a research scientist for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a DuPont subsidiary with headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, and the industrial sponsor for the experiment. "If we find changes, then we want to know if the positive traits can be inherited genetically by future generations of plants for the benefit of farmers and consumers."
Space Shuttle Atlantis visited the orbiting laboratory last month during the STS-112 mission to deliver new experiment equipment and other supplies and return with the soybean plants and other completed experiments.
"This experiment and others are paving the way for improving crops grown on Earth, as well as potentially feeding people living in space," said Mark Nall, director of NASA's Space Product Development Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The program has helped companies fly several experiments on the Station by working with one of NASA's 15 Commercial Space Cen
Contact: Steve Roy
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center