If a manned mission to another far-off planet were to take place, the crew probably would need something more sustainable than tubes for a food resource - plants would probably be the best option.

However, almost all plants have a gene specifying that they grow against gravity. This would lead me to believe that they wouldn't do very well in micro-gravity.

Would normal, non-genetically-modified, plants be able to survive and yield fruit in space? What special considerations or procedures would need to be taken into account?


3 Answers 3


So far the studies that have been performed in orbit have shown that plants grow perfectly normal (shoots up, roots down--so to speak) in microgravity. They also produce healthy offspring which can grow new plants in orbit.

Experiments have been performed on Arabidopsis and other Brassicaceae.

Aboard the ISS a special “plant growth chamber” called Advanced Astroculture (or ADVASC) is used for Arabidopsis. Within this enclosed chamber the environmental and growth conditions of the plants can be controlled.

The ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™ controls temperature, humidity, light, atmospheric conditions and delivery of nutrients to plants. It requires no power during Shuttle ascent and descent.


The seeds are planted in a tray containing a special material composed of crushed clay (Arcillite) for rooting. The plant receives its nutrition via basins in ADVASC that contain water and other nutrients.

Another unit with plant growth chambers called the Advanced Biological Research System (ABRS) has also been used on the ISS for Arabidopsis.


Vegetables have been grown in space as well. Mizuna, a type of Japanese lettuce, has been grown in the Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit. Experiments have been performed in the Lada unit since 2002.

Mizuna on the ISS

This year (2013) the ISS will begin to grow its first crop of lettuce that will actually be eaten on board! Red-leaved romaine lettuce will be grown under LED lighting starting in December (2013) with the goal for it to eventually be eaten by the astronauts. The plants are expected to grow to edible size in 28 days.


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Obviously, "up" and "down" are relative, but I allude to the fact that they grow in opposite directions. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Aug 8, 2013 at 14:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ So? How was the lettuce? $\endgroup$
    – Ellesedil
    Oct 8, 2014 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Ellesedil I'll see if I can find a recent article. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Oct 8, 2014 at 21:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @cr0 Check out the linked question Growing food in space. It may answer some of your questions. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Feb 7, 2018 at 15:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @cr0 Yeah, this answer and the one I linked you too are mostly about lettuce. You can see in the comments of my answer to the linked question that I noted that gravity's effects are not negligible in cucumber. The whole field of space botany is really involved. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Feb 7, 2018 at 15:28

In addition to the gravity, an important influence for plant growth is light (cf. Photoperiodism). So, in microgravity plants still "know" which direction to grow - leafs towards the light (for Photosynthesis), roots away from it, towards water/nutrients.

As others pointed out, space experiments confirm that plants do grow in microgravity.

  • $\begingroup$ Depending on the plant, magnetic fields might be more important as well. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Aug 8, 2013 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ what if the light comes from all directions? $\endgroup$
    – Anixx
    Oct 10, 2014 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @sds: roots don't grow away from the light, they grow towards water and soil nutrients. By the time you get an inch or two under the soil, there's no appreciable light to navigate by. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Anixx: If the light comes from all directions, there is necessarily no suitable bedding material/soil for the roots to embed in and extract nutrients from. The plant will die in the seedling stage. Apart from that factor, the plant will spread its leaves to catch as much light as it can from whatever direction the light can be found. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Note however that plants are adapted to the sun cycles. For some plants, a changed cycle will affect their growth and health significantly. Some flowering plants would be unlikely to bud unless the the light/dark cycle and ambient temperature both mimic the change from winter to spring. Vine plants might have trouble finding attachment points without the sun's traversal to help their tips oscillate. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2015 at 22:16

Since this question was originally asked, there have been quite a few experiments performed on the ISS studying plant growth:

VEGGIE Facility (VEG-03,VEG-04,VEG-05)

  • Dual locker payload facility
  • Consists of a UV Lightcap Assembly and a retractable Bellows Subassembly to contain/protect foliage.
  • Plants grow in "plant pillows", which contain a growth media and fertilizer.
  • Requires daily watering from the crew of the ISS.

Shane Kimbrough with Veggie plant pillows

Veggie with bellows assembly extended

Successfully grew (non-exhaustive list):

  • Red Romaine Lettuce
  • Waldmann's Green Lettuce
  • Extra Dwarf Pak Choi
  • Amara Mustard
  • Tokyo Bekana Cabbage
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Dragoon Lettuce
  • Zinnia Flowers
  • Red Robin Dwarf Tomatoes

Plant Habitat

  • Quad locker payload facility
  • Enclosed growth chamber
  • Can automatically control temperature, CO2 levels, moisture levels, and illumination intensity/wavelength.

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EMCS (European Modular Cultivation System) (retired)

  • Quad locker payload facility
  • Two independent centrifuges house up to four experiment containers each, allowing for varying amounts of "gravity" to be applied to study the effects on plant growth.
  • Can control environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and illumination.
  • Integrated cameras provide imagery of plant growth while rotors are active.

EMCS centrifuges EMCS Experiment Container (EC)


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