Iconic Australian Seeds heading for the Space Station
It's spring time here in Australia, that special time of year when the flora begins to bloom. But for some brave little wattle seeds, things are about to get very interesting as they prepare to head into space and spend six months on the International Space Station.
On August 27, Golden Wattle seeds (Acacia pycnantha) were handed over to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in a ceremony in Tokyo, just in time for National Wattle Day on 1 September. From Tokyo the seeds will be sent to the US to be launched on SpaceX 21 scheduled for October and will return on SpaceX 22.
The seeds collected by CSIRO from a wild population in Victoria, will spend 6 months in the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the ‘Asian Herbs in Space’ project and will be exposed to microgravity (weightlessness) and above-average radiation levels during that time. When the seeds return home they will join the inaugural Australia Seeds in Space education program through the One Giant Leap Australia Foundation where school students will plant the seeds and study the results.
Head of the Australian Space Agency Dr Megan Clark AC said, “When the seeds are returned from space, students across Australia will have the opportunity to take part in scientific inquiry by planting these Golden Wattle seeds and comparing them to control seeds that have not been to space.”
What’ll happen to the Wattle
Jackie Carpenter founder of One Giant Leap Australia who is running the ‘What’ll happen to the wattle’ program says that it is open to all schools or community organisations and they are now on the hunt for participants.
Jackie said, “The data is important so we need to make sure the kids are all growing the seeds in the same way so we’ll be providing the same little greenhouse and potting mix to make sure it’s consistent. They will grow seeds that have stayed on Earth along with seeds that have been to space.
“We’d also love to build an app so that we can geotag the locations of the space wattles to see how they are going into the future.”
The Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud along with the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews announced the space endeavour on National Wattle day. Mr Littleproud said, “Wattle is a unifying symbol of Australia and Australians—and now it is supporting the international space community through research and education.
Rigorous biosecurity measures will be in effect as the little seeds travel half-way around the world before heading out to space and then coming back home.
“My department played a leading role in the safe delivery of the seeds from Australia to the International Space Station and will assist again when the seeds return home to be studied by Aussie schoolkids.
“It might be one small step for these seeds travelling to Japan then America for lift off to the International Space Station before coming back to Australia, but our biosecurity measures will take giant steps to ensure the seeds don’t pose a risk to our farmers and environment,” Minister Littleproud said.
Discovery Mission wattles
This isn’t the first time the Golden Wattles have left Earth. In May 2008, NASA astronaut Dr Gregory Chamitoff took Golden Wattle seeds with him on the Discovery Mission in May 2008 and spent six months on the ISS before returning home. Those wattles were planted in June 2014 in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.
The then NSW Minister for Environment Mr Rob Stokes said, “NASA is interested in seeds that might be hardy enough to survive lengthy exposure to the space environment and germinate in greenhouses in space or on other planets.
“Wattles are also great because they grow rapidly and improve soil conditions, adding nutrients and helping break up soil, making it easier for other plants to grow.”