Houston, we've got a flower. On Saturday, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, who is currently completing his first full year in space, posted a photo to his Instagram of an insanely gorgeous flower that the team on the International Space Station grew...right there in space.
According to NASA, the flower is an edible orange zinnia. NASA selected the orange zinnia because it's a harder plant to grow than lettuce, which has already been successfully grown in space. The main purpose of Kelly's mission, a partnership with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko, is to study the effects of a long-term stay in space. Their presence, meanwhile, overlapped with NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren's experiments to grow plants in space, according to The Daily Dot. NASA is growing the flowers and lettuce to learn how to garden in space with the hope of eventually being able to do so on Mars. The crop of zinnias were farmed using methods developed by NASA's Veggie program and sprouted from "pillows" full of fertilizer, seeds, water, and clay. They are illuminated by LED lights.
NASA's astronauts have had difficulty growing the plants, including a documented case of mold and over-drying around Christmastime. Kelly took the helm of the Veggie program and shared several tweets about its progress. At one point, he even said that they may need the help of Matt Damon's fictional character from The Martian. Just last week, Kelly tweeted that the flowers were "on the rebound." Now, the flowers have finally started to bloom.
"For now, scientists continue to closely monitor the zinnia crop and are following Kelly’s lead for care based on his observations," NASA wrote on its blog. "The unexpected turns experienced during this Veggie run have actually offered bountiful opportunities for new learning and better understanding of one of the critical components to future journeys to Mars."