Interview With Gioia Massa
NASA scientist at Kennedy Space Center in Florida working on food production for
the International Space Station (ISS) and future exploration endeavors. To read more
about her, visit her biography here.
We asked her about other attempts by NASA to grow plants in space.
We've grown a lot of smaller plants. Things that either grew in small terrariums or in Petri dishes. We are now in the process of sending up a really big plant growth chamber-- the largest one we've ever built. This advanced plant habitat has pumps and soil moisture sensors, so we'll be able to be much more controlled with how we grow the plants.
We then asked about the manufacturing and transportation costs of the Plant Pillow.
I think they're kind of expensive because they're handmade, and then they also have to pass all of the NASA flight safety regulations, so there's a lot of things involved with that. I believe it is over $1,000 to manufacture a single plant pillow, including space-grade materials and labor. I believe that the launch price is around $10,000 per pound, and with 18 pillows per launch at 200 grams per pillow, the cost is around $79,000 to bring one shipment of plant pillows.
We discussed the problem of how roots seek gravity in space, and asked Massa how the Plant Pillow solves this issue.
The roots of a plant have a phototrophic stimulus towards blue light. The Plant Pillow holds the seed in place during travel and during growth, and the stems grow towards blue light.