Optimization of Root Zone Substrates for reduced Gravity Experiments
A new plant module for the Optimization of Root Zone Substrates (ORZS) program became the first space soil physics experiment when it launched to the International Space Station (ISS). ORZS arrived at the ISS aboard the ISS Progress 25 cargo spacecraft. Progress 25 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in May 2007 and returned aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis in February 2008. A second ISS experiment is scheduled for the fall of 2008.
ORZS is a cooperative program with the Russian Institute of BioMedical Problems (IBMP) and USU’s Soil Physics group. NASA funded the development of the new hardware, which was designed and built by students.
The ORZS program objective is to optimize the plant growth rooting environment. During the ORZS experiments, SDL is measuring the root gas exchange through plant growth substrates at varying water content levels in microgravity. Understanding plant behavior in microgravity is a significant factor in life support applications for NASA programs that will use plants to help solve the isolation, nutrition, and resource revitalization problems of long-term spaceflight.
ORZS represents more than fifteen years of collaborative efforts between USU, SDL and the Russian Space Agency. Scientists from SDL and USU will monitor the experiment’s progress from Moscow. Early analysis of the data collected from the first experiment indicates a significant difference in oxygen diffusion in smaller substrates under µg, with a smaller change evident in the mixed size substrates.