Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 4, 2014

Space-age planting

Tomatosphere project compares regular seeds to those that spent months on International Space Station

By Lauren Fitch Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Covered with a half inch of soil and organized in neat rows in two trays, the 60 tomato seeds a class of Boulevard Elementary School students planted last week seem identical. But half of them spent 22 months in space.

As part of the Tomatosphere project, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from Boulevard and Sycamore elementary schools are doing an experiment comparing how the space seeds and regular seeds grow. About 600,000 tomato seeds were taken to the International Space Station on the last U.S. shuttle in July 2011, and a Russian Soyuz vehicle returned them to Earth in May 2013.

More than 17,000 teachers in Canada and the U.S. registered for Tomatosphere this year and received a set of space seeds and a set of regular seeds to have their students study the differences. Tomatosphere sponsors include the Canadian Space Agency, University of Guelph, Stoke Seeds and Heinz.

The program has been running for 12 years, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teacher Jim McCarter has gotten Kokomo students involved for several years. He will report the results of their experiment to the Canadian Space Agency and NASA.

Students planted the seeds Thursday and prepared logs to record how the seeds develop every day. In a third-grade class at Boulevard, the boys will monitor how quickly each seed germinates and the girls will track what percentage of seeds germinate.

“The space seeds will germinate the fastest,” student Andrew Jay predicted, adding that germination is when “something starts to grow.” The majority of his classmates agreed with his hypothesis.

Mackenzie Tedder pointed out that radiation could impact the space seeds.

“When they were up in space, if the radiation hit them you can see if that affects how much they’ll grow,” she said.

Brielle Jackson and Isabella Bailey were two of the volunteers who helped plant the seeds. The girls made sure external factors impacting each seed were the same.

“They’ve got to get the same water, the same light and the same inches buried,” Bailey explained.

As of Monday, McCarter said none of the seeds had germinated yet.

Education reporter Lauren Fitch can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at lauren.fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.