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    The biggest job on earth … and beyond

    Three German students and BASFʼs crop protection team were at the launch of the SpaceX CRS-10 carrying the V3PO space farming project to the International Space Station (ISS).

    Join us on our journey to space! Follow Maria, Raphael, David (our students), Sebastian (our BASF scientist) and Carol (our BASF communicator) to Cape Canaveral in Florida. Stay in touch for news about the most exciting and ambitious agricultural research trial we’ve ever been involved with.

    Latest News – Lift Off! February 19th, 2017

    Yes! We have lift-off! The V3PO team celebrates the successful launch of the SpaceX CRS10 mission to the ISS.

    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. As the launch control said cleared for lift off and the countdown began, they knew that this time it would launch.

    There was nothing to hear, only the noise of the rocket boosters coming over from people’s cell phones. Everyone started frantically looking into the clouds to find signs of the rocket. And there it was.! A tiny bright speck curving through the clouds. After a few minutes, as the rocket went through the sound barrier, there was a huge sonic boom that made everyone jump.

    After a few moments of stunned disbelief – the experiment was actually on its way to the ISS – the relief was obvious to see in the students’ faces and they started cheering and patting each other on the back and clapping. And then suddenly it was all over. The team walked slowly back to their rental house and just one hour later they were on the road to and to catch their plane back to Germany. What an emotional few days with the highest highs and the lowest lows!

    Congratulations V3PO! This is just the beginning of your project, let’s see how it could change people’s lives in the future.

     

    On the way to watch the launch from the beach

    A space rocket launch at Cape Canaveral is quite a sightseeing attraction

    V3PO teacher, Brigitte Scheuermann and Young scientis Maria Koch are so happy

    Just a tiny fame in the distance but for the V3PO Team it is the culmintation of three years hard work

    Latest News – February 18th, 2017

    The team can't believe it. The launch was cancelled just 13 seconds before lift off.

    Maria, David and Raphael were at the NASA meeting point just as the sun was rising this morning. It was promising to be a beautiful day and all the reports were looking good for the rocket launch. With VIP launch passes in their hands, the team joined other guests at the Kennedy Space Center complex.

    From the roof terrace, the team could look out over to launch pad 39A where the SpaceX rocket, Falcon 9, will lift-off from. This is where all the original Apollo missions to the moon started. In fact, Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, was at the VIP reception too (but was whisked away before anyone could take photos!). Officials from NASA, the ISS and SpaceX welcomed guests and gave inspiring presentations about today's launch and the importance of space science.

    With one minute to launch, everyone suddenly fell silent - looking towards the launch pad, waiting for the countdown to begin. The technical checks were being broadcast over loudspeakers. Suddenly, a voice from the launch control said "Hold, Hold, Hold" and just 13 seconds before lift off, the launch was scrubbed.

    So hard for the V3PO students - they have been waiting for this moment for over three years. Their faces said it all - first stunned disbelief, followed by deep disappointment that was impossible to hide.

    NASA has now scheduled a new try tomorrow, Sunday 19th at 9.38 am local time. This time there won't be any VIP event at Kennedy Space Center. But the students are looking forward to a new viewing experience – from the beach!

    Latest News – February 17th, 2017

    The V3PO students are exploring exciting possibilities for space farming in the future.

    Another exhausting, but very exciting day the V3PO team. After a photoshoot at Kennedy Space Center and two live social media interviews, our space farming students got down to work. Maria selected the cuttings for the ISS, David measured them to make sure they were the required size, and Raphael planted them into the little box full of agar.

    By 3pm, they were finished and the V3PO space engineers, Maria and Chris took over the final preparations: Inserting the box into the outer case, connecting the power cables before screwing the case together. They ran a computer program to ensure that the lights are working and were even able to watch short videos of the plants inside the case.

    Then the team had a long wait until the evening when the team from Nanoracks arrived and did the final documentation and checks for their experiment. They finally handed over their experiment at 7pm and it was then taken straight to the rocket launch site to be loaded onto the rocket.

    What a day!

    Finally, the experiment box is ready to go!

    The box must be handled with extreme care.

    Transportation has to be done in a cooler.

    Off it goes!

    Latest News – February 16th, 2017

    Farming is the biggest job on earth... and definitely, beyond!

    Yesterday’s task was to mix up and set the agar as the students have practiced many times before in the BASF labs. Agar is a jelly-like substance obtained from algae, that can be supplemented with compounds to protect plants and provide the nutrients needed for them to grow in research experiments. Maria and David mixed the agar to a thick, clear liquid and Raphael added the BASF fungicides and an antibacterial compound to keep the cuttings healthy. Next step: Take tiny leaf cuttings from their Ficus pumila plant and set them into the agar.

    Later in the day, Carl and Mary from the Nanoracks operations team came to the labs to label the outer box with barcodes and instructions. When the experiment arrives on the ISS, these labels tell the astronauts exactly what the container is, which side is the top and which is the right way up and so on. Carl told us that the astronauts regularly find old pieces of equipment that have got lost over the years on the Space Station – the barcodes now help make sure that everyone knows what and where the experiments are!

    In the afternoon, the students had their first interview with the local newspaper from their home town, Ravensburg. Maria told the journalist that they are all now studying agriculture at college and have started a new phase of their lives. It was very windy here in Florida yesterday and all the V3PO team is looking nervously at the weather reports for the launch day on Saturday. If it is too windy, NASA could possibly postpone the launch again. Fingers crossed that it all works out.

    Maria carefully taking the right steps to setup the experiment

    The V3PO team already feels at home in the NASA labs!

    Young professionals setting the stage for upcoming innovations.

    The Ficus pumila plants have been well looked after in the labs.

    Latest News – February 15th, 2017

    The Ficus pumila plants have been well looked after in the labs.

    The V3PO team has been busy preparing the AFEX experiment container in the Space Life Sciences Lab. Before they can set up their experiment, David, Maria and Raphael first have to build their experiment container. A technician from container manufacturers Intrinsyx, visited the labs on Monday to train them on its construction. They were also shown how to connect the container to the software that ensures light for the cuttings and also takes regular photographs of their development. Using tweezers, the young researchers inserted the tiny membrane windows that will allow gases to pass in and out of the container, fixing them tight with miniature screws.

    And by the way, the Ficus pumila plants continue to do well, thanks to the care of the lab team and the students who have been tending to them! Keep it up, guys!

    Meanwhile over at Kennedy Space Center, the SpaceX rocket successfully completed a static fire test of its engines. The rocket will launch to the ISS from launch pad #39A. This is where the Apollo missions were launched and it was last used for the final flight of the Space Shuttle program.

    Latest News – Feb 13th, 2017

    The crew landed safe and sound – including the ficus pumilla!

    Maria, David, Raphael and our BASF Team have finally arrived in Florida! Over the weekend, the V3PO team had time to visit the Space Coast, an area around the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. An interesting discovery: many of the streets and landmarks around the Cape have space related names!

    The students visited the Space Life Sciences Lab at Exploration Park, the primary gateway for payloads bound to the International Space Station. They were relieved to see that their experiment equipment and materials have safely arrived in Florida. Most important of all: the ficus pumilla plants, which will be used for the experiment, are healthy and looking great!

    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 discover more!

    What does it take to grow food in space?

    BASF is supporting Maria, Raphael and David from Ravensburg in Germany because we share their interest for visionary research. We will not only get new insights into plant behavior in micro-gravity, but also inspiration for new ways and places to grow food.

    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.

    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.

    Calling their project "V3PO" ("Vegetative Vermehrung Von Pflanzen im Orbit" / "Vegetative Propagation of Plants in Orbit"), the three students from the Edith Stein Agricultural High School in Ravensburg want 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 is providing the scientific support for the project, NASA has 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 2017, Maria, Raphael and David will travel to Cape Canaveral in Florida, United States to launch their experiment to the ISS. They will prepare two tiny, custom-designed microboxes each housing Ficus pumila cuttings. The cuttings will be observed by NASA astronauts in space for 30 days before being returned to earth. In parallel, a control experiment will take place on earth observed by the students.

    To develop the most effective experimental design, the students are working with scientists from BASF's Agricultural Center in Limburgerhof. They will prepare the final experiment boxes for the ISS at the Kennedy Space Center laboratories near to Cape Canaveral.  

    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.

    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