USU Project Going to Space

By Greg Lavine
The Salt Lake Tribune
September 25, 2002

USU student Ryan Seeley's image reflects off the plant growth area of a greenhouse as he prepares it to be sent to Russia. It will be launched for use in the International Space Station.
(Ryan Galbraith/Tribune file photo)

Consider it the dawn of the salad days for the International Space Station.

A robotic Russian Soyuz rocket is slated to blast off this afternoon from Kazakhstan, in southwest Asia, carrying a Utah State University-built miniature greenhouse.

The $150,000 growth chamber can produce fresh, leafy greens for space station inhabitants.

USU's Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) worked with the Russian Institute of Bio-Medical Problems to develop the Lada greenhouse unit.

The device, named for a goddess of spring, also shares its moni ker with a line of boxy, cheap Russian cars.

This launch marks USU's return to space and continues an international partnership.

SDL researchers designed a series of plant-growth experiments for Russia's former MIR space station. Building on that MIR experience, Lada will grow dwarf plants and vegetables, said Steve Hansen, SDL's deputy director.

"They'll be growing some Japanese lettuce, which apparently the Russian cosmonauts like," he said.
In addition to mizuna, the lettuce, Lada can also grow tomatoes, peppers and rice, said USU's Gail Bingham, head of the project.

Growing the lettuce will test the equipment, while the resulting greens can be eaten to provide some variety in the space station diet of dehydrated and frozen cuisine.

When Lada is not being used for experiments, space station residents can exercise their green thumbs with recreational gardening.

USU's growth chamber will be in capable hands with space station crew member and MIR veteran Sergei Treschev.

The cosmonaut was the first trained to use USU's MIR equipment, Bingham said.

The human side of Lada examines the garden's effect on the crew.

"We'll see if this makes them better able to withstand the hardships of being locked up in space," Bingham said.

USU students were instrumental in designing and building Lada.

Shane Topham, an SDL engineer who worked on the project as an undergraduate, said the modest budget forced students to find parts at area hardware stores.