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    The biggest job on earth … and beyond

    BASF is proud to support Maria, Raphael and David, three agricultural students from Ravensburg in Germany and their visionary space farming research project "V3PO".

    In February 2017, they were at Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of the SpaceX CRS-10 mission to the International Space Station. On board the transport rocket, was the V3PO experiment to research the growth of plant cuttings in micro-gravity. The experiment will bring new knowledge about cultivating plants in space and inspire new ways to grow food in the future.

    Farming is already the biggest job on earth. It will only get bigger in the future as growing populations and declining resources create major challenges for the future of food. With its great heritage in farming, BASF is preparing for the future and committed to looking for new ways to solve these challenges; ways that even go beyond the boundaries of conventional agricultural thinking.

    Lift Off! - February 19, 2017

    Heavy showers greeted the team this morning, but a few glimpses of sunshine were to be seen as they set off up the beach to watch the rescheduled launch of the SpaceX Dragon 9 rocket to the ISS.  What a contrast to yesterday’s VIP viewing event. Today, the V3PO students found a spot on a wooden pier at the beach, shared with local residents, tourists, photographers and anglers alike. The atmosphere was subdued, everyone listening to the countdown preparations on their mobile phones. ......

    Modern plant research on a small scale: this photo shows the container for the plant cuttings "AFEx Habitat". It has two chambers and is smaller than a soft drink can.

    Project Background

    Calling their project "V3PO" ("Vegetative Vermehrung Von Pflanzen im Orbit" / "Vegetative Propagation of Plants in Orbit"), the three students started their research in 2014 at the Edith Stein Agricultural High School in Ravensburg to find out if vegetables can be grown in space to provide fresh food during space missions.

    The challenge attracted the interest of both BASF and NASA. While BASF provided scientific support for the project, NASA reserved a spot for the experiment on the International Space Station (ISS). It is the first crowdfunded German school project that has been accepted into the NASA Educational Program.

    In February 2017, Maria, Raphael and David travelled to Cape Canaveral in Florida, United States to launch their experiment to the ISS. They spent three days at the Space Life Sciences Labs, near to Kennedy Space Center, to prepare a tiny, custom-designed microbox housing eight Ficus pumila cuttings.   The cuttings were launched into space to spend nearly a month on the ISS before being returned to earth.

    To develop the experiment design, the students worked closely with scientists from BASF's Agricultural Center in Limburgerhof. A control experiment will also take place in BASF's labs on earth to compare the results.

    BASF is proud to support the space farming project. What’s it all about, who’s involved and why could it be important for the future of food? Watch this SWR television report about the V3PO Space Farming Project to find out! Or take a look at our photo and video gallery for even more.

    overview

    The plant in space: Ficus pumila

    It wasn’t easy to find the right “passenger” for the trip to the ISS. Click on the next picture to find out more.

    It wasn’t easy to find the right “passenger” for the trip to the ISS. Click on the next picture to find out more.

    The plant, or rather the leaf cuttings taken from it, had to fulfill tough space travel requirements: small due to the limited space; resistant to extreme temperatures between 4-30°C; and fast-growing to produce roots quickly during the 30 days on the ISS. Click on the next picture to find out more.

    After a long search, the school students found the perfect plant: Ficus pumila, a member of the Ficus genus. Other members of this plant family are the well-known ornamental Ficus benjamini, and Ficus carica – the tree that produces figs and the namesake of the genus. Click on the next picture to find out more.

    It’s not possible for the students to import plant material into the United States, so they will first have to source a suitable Ficus pumila specimen to take their cuttings from in Florida. Click on the next picture to find out more.

    In the NASA laboratories, the students will then take 15mm cuttings, carefully insert them into an agar-based growing medium, before delivering their experiment to NASA’s operations team 72 hours before lift-off. Click on the next picture to find out more.

    Most of us know Ficus pumila as an ornamental house or garden plant, so why is it being used for this experiment? BASF scientist, Sebastian Rohrer, explains, “Ficus pumila is being used as a surrogate for vegetable plants such as tomato, cucumber or pepper. This approach is common scientific practice.”

    Take a closer look

    Until today, space research has focused on the behavior of seeds. Now the V3PO project takes this one step further into unexplored territory.

    From school lab to outer space

    Who is behind the V3PO project? Meet the students and scientists working on one of the most exciting agricultural trials BASF has ever been involved with.

    Space for thought

    Brigitte Schuermann is the schoolteacher behind V3PO. As they get ready for the rocket launch, she describes the highs and lows of the past two years.

    Latest News

    Read the V3PO diary as the students travel to Florida for the launch of the space farming project to the ISS.

    V3PO Supporters

    BASF is exclusively providing scientific resources and consultancy to the V3PO project.  The Space Station opportunity for the V3PO project is being made possible by DreamUp and NanoRacks LLC. NanoRacks LLC is able to provide this in-space opportunity via its Space Act Agreement with NASA’s U.S. National Labs.

    Further supporters of the project include: Intrinsyx, mymicrogravity, the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, DLR (national aeronautics and space research center of the Federal Republic of Germany), inside, Airbus, and the Sparkasse Ravensburg.   (Photo: Jesper Rais)

    Connect with the V3PO students