Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moon Landing

I awoke to the strains of David Bowie singing 'Space Oddity' this morning and was reminded that today is the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing. That must mean I was 7 years old when I was sent home from school to watch the landing on a neighbour's (black & white!) television because both my parents were at work. What on earth has this event got to do with gardening?!?!
Last year Dr Gregory Chamitoff took 4 different species of Australian native seeds with him into space on the Discovery Mission STS-124. Species represented were the Wollemi Pine (first photo), the Waratah (second photo) the Flannel Flower (my favourite Aussie native, third photo) and the Golden Wattle (fourth photo). The seeds spent 6 months in space and orbited the earth more than 2800 times (hope they didn't get too dizzy!) The seeds were subject to microgravity and low-level ionising radiation so quite a number of people were very interested to see whether any of them would come up once they were planted. Germination tests carried out at the Mt. Annan Botanic Gardens showed viability was not affected on three out of the four species - testing on the Wollemi Pine is still being undertaken (basically it is taking longer to come up than the others!)
“Microgravity alone has the capacity to discombobulate a seed so it doesn’t know which way to grow. Certainly this would be an issue for the seeds if they had been germinated up in Space but it seems, at this stage, that our seeds still know which way is up!” said Dr Tim Entwistle the Executive Director of the Botanic Gardens Trust. (Isn't discombobulate a great word!)
So this bodes well for future projects like a seedbank in space or for carrying seeds into space for a new settlement on a planet or a space station. Not something I think I will ever see in my lifetime, but maybe in my children's lifetime.......
"Ground Control to Major Tom"

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