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  • -= Mercurious Chat =- (wheat Chat Log)Hosted by Dr. Robert Morrow of ORBITEC

    Chris Ditzman - Moderator at SEI from De, Wisconsin writes:
    10/21/2002 1:29:28 PM - Room opened by Moderator.

    Chris Ditzman - Moderator at SEI from De, Wisconsin writes:
    Greetings students and teachers! Please welcome Dr. Robert Morrow, senior scientist from ORBITEC! Start asking your questions everyone!

    Chris Ditzman - Moderator at SEI from De, Wisconsin writes:
    Just so everyone is aware, all questions must be passed through a moderator before they are sent to Dr. Morrow. It may take a few minutes to see your question. We will try and get through as many questions as possible in the time allocated for today's chat. Ask away!

    Kelly - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    What is the best part about having your job?

    I enjoy doing research and interacting with engineers and the astronauts.

    Kelly - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    Did you get to tell the astronauts what to do when your experiment was in space?

    We actually trained the astronauts before they went into space and wrote and instruction manual for them. When they were in space we were available to answer any questions that they had. We talked to a "communicator" at nasa and they actually gave our answers to the crew.

    Paul - Student at Lawrence Middle from San Diego, California asks:
    Do you have any plans for more experiments in space? What kind?

    Yes, though we do not have an actual scheduled flight yet. We would like to fly an experiment to study how water moves through the rooting material in microgravity. This would help us better design our nutrient delivery system (a kind of hydroponics). We would also like to fly more plant physiology experiments.

    Paul - Student at Lawrence Middle from San Diego, California asks:
    Did the wheat grow different in space than on Earth?

    The analysis of the wheat is not yet complete. However, from what is seen so far there does not appear to be a significant difference between space and earth. We did not grow our wheat to maturity so there might be differences in seed development that we do not know about.

    Sarah Jennings - Teacher at Richmond School from Portland, Oregon asks:
    Why did you choose wheat over other grains or plants to study?

    The wheat was selected by the scientist at Kennedy Space Center who was part of the BPS experiment. His name is Dr. Gary Stutte. One of his interests is using plants for advanced life support and wheat is one of the most studied plants for this use. It has a high rate of productivity and is very flexible in that it can be made into many different food items (like bread). The wheat we flew is a dwarf variety that fits better in smaller plant chambers and produces less stem material.

    Sarah Jennings - Teacher at Richmond School from Portland, Oregon asks:
    You said you would like to fly an experiment to study how water moves through the rooting material in microgravity. What type of plant would you use to do this?

    These experiments would probably be done without plants. We would use physical systems to put water into the root zone and then use a camera and moisture sensors to study its behavior in the rooting material.

    Sarah Jennings - Teacher at Richmond School from Portland, Oregon asks:
    How long were the plants in space and why didnít they develop grain?

    The wheat was in space for 73 days. However, we actually harvested plants at 20 days before they got to big for our chamber and then started another set. Altogether we grew 9 modules of wheat in this experiment (over 340 plants).

    Kelsey - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    Did you get to train the astronauts yourself. Did you get to go to Houston?

    Yes. Our crew trainer did most of the training, but I went to Houston and trained the crew on how to handle Brassica plants. Dr. Stutte from KSC trained the crew on how to handle wheat plants.

    Kelsey - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    How much does it cost to put an experiment on the ISS?

    This is really variable and I don't work with the budget so I'm not sure. An old rule of thumb is that each pound launched into space costs about $10,000.

    Kelsey - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    Did you get all of the plants back? Where are they now? Are they still alive?

    We received all of our plants. All of the tissue is currently being analyzed. None of the plants are alive, though the Brassica seeds that came back are probably alive but I haven't had a chance to test them yet.

    Sarah Jennings - Teacher at Richmond School from Portland, Oregon asks:
    Do you anticipate and type of genatic mutations in wheat strains as you grow 2nd, 3rd, 4th, ...... generations of wheat in microgravity?

    We don't know for sure. Previous tests with seeds left on-orbit for a long time did not turn up any mutations, but it is possible that cosmic radiation could cause mutations in wheat over time. We will not know until we have flown multigenerational wheat studies.

    Kelly - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    What kinds of tests will you do to the plants?

    We will analyze them for levels of nutrient elements, we will look at the cells microscopically, and do a number of physiological tests to look at variou chemicals within the plant.

    Kelly - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    Are the astronauts nice? Which ones did you work with?

    Yes, at least the ones I have worked with are. The astronaut I worked with on this experiment was Dan Bursch who did a very good job conducting our experiment on-orbit.

    Sarah Jennings - Teacher at Richmond School from Portland, Oregon asks:
    How long will it be before you think wheat will be able to be used as food in space?

    It will probably not be used until we actually go to Mars or return to the Moon. This could be a very long time but I really hope it will be within the next 20 years.

    Michael Kowalczyk - Teacher at Union High from Seattle, Washington asks:
    Do you think that certain types of plants growing in microgravity would turn out to be drastically different in appearance (as opposed to growing on earth)? If so, what sort of plants would you suspect?

    I don't know. So far none of the plants grown have appeared very different. It may be that over time this might be observed. Also, thinks like ferns and fungi (not a plant) have not really be studied much in microgravity. Woody plants might look the most different since they develop less fiber in reduced gravity, but it will be a long time before a tree is grown to any size in space.

    Paul - Student at Lawrence Middle from San Diego, California asks:
    Did you have a hypothesis for this experiment?

    Yes. The hypothesis was developed by Dr. Stutte at KSC so I don't have the exact wording handy, but he essentially hypothesized that wheat photosynthesis in microgravity would not differ from that observed on Earth.

    Paul - Student at Lawrence Middle from San Diego, California asks:
    How do you keep the plants, seeds, and water from floating around in the ch

    The wheat seeds were placed in a slit in foam to keep them from floating away. A "root/shoot" barrier was used to anchor the plants and keep the rooting material (which is like kitty litter) from floating away. The rooting material acts like a sponge and holds water by capillary force so there is no free water to float away.

    Paul - Student at Lawrence Middle from San Diego, California asks:
    Was there ever a part during the experiment where something went wrong and you had to fix it from the ground like in Apollo 13?

    Yes, but nothing too serius. We often have to develop workarounds to various problems that arise and work with the crew and NASA support people to implement the work around. Definitely not as dramatic as Apollo 13.

    Paul - Student at Lawrence Middle from San Diego, California asks:
    Can you give an exacmple of one of the problems?

    A crew activity was done at the same time as an automatic activty and ruined the data collected during the automated activity. We had to replan our schedule for several days to do the test over. This involved sending several files to BPS by linking our computer with the BPS computer. It was not very dramatic but took a lot of time to fix.

    Kelsey - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    Did you always want to work in space when you were a kid?

    Yes. I was a kid during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions and followed the space program very closely. This was common for many of us who grew up at that time and we spent a lot of time on space related activites in school.

    Michael Kowalczyk - Teacher at Union High from Seattle, Washington asks:
    Do you know of any experiments studying the effects of supergravity on plant growth? For example, if the plant was in a centrifuge?

    I know that such experiments have been done, but I am not familiar with the specific results. We may actually participate in such an experiment in the next couple of years as a scientist has asked if our plant chambers could be operated on a centrifuge (they should work fine in multiple g's with some adjustments).

    Sarah Jennings - Teacher at Richmond School from Portland, Oregon asks:
    Did you learn anything that would change in future experiments?

    Yes, we learned a number of things that we would change in the future. However, most of these deal with activities prior to and after the actual on-orbit part of the mission. Coordinating an effort of this size is very difficult and we learned better ways to do it in the future.

    Kelly - Student at Washington School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks:
    Do you think we will really send people to Mars someday and they will use plants to survive?

    I think this will happen someday, hopefully in my lifetime. We have the technology but need the public to support such a mission. Many of the possible missions being studied use plants for regenerative life support, much the same way as we depend on plants on earth for survival.

    Chris Ditzman - Moderator at SEI from De, Wisconsin writes:
    Thanks to everyone for participating in today's chat! Be sure to check the Orbital Laboratory website for chat transcripts, new Weekly Features every week, and other weekly events. Thank you for participating!

    Chris Ditzman - Moderator at SEI from De, Wisconsin writes:
    10/21/2002 3:12:59 PM - Room closed by Moderator. Thank you for your participation.

     
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