Join us on our journey to space! Follow Maria, Raphael, David and the entire V3PO team to Cape Canaveral in Florida and back. Read our launch diary about the most exciting and ambitious agricultural research trial we’ve ever been involved with.
Today was another exciting day for the V3PO project. The experiment box and the plant cuttings arrived safely back at BASF's agricultural research station in Limburgerhof, Germany from the ISS.
Waiting expectantly in the labs with the BASF researchers was a new team of pupils from the Edith-Stein School in Ravensburg (the original V3PO students have now moved on to study agriculture at university). Sebastian Rohrer, head of the early fungicide biology team collected the parcel and brought it to the labs. Had the cuttings survived their long journey?
The V3PO team was very pleased to have the experiment box and the cuttings back from the ISS. A few cuttings had suffered damage, probably due to being kept in the dark on the long transport to and from the ISS. After cutting a hole in the side of the box, the pupils removed the cuttings from the container, catalogued and photographed them. On initial observation, there were no roots to be seen, however before the school pupils have any definite results, they will conduct a histological examination of the cuttings and detailed analysis of the plant tissues at the Leibnitz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops in Erfurt.
In readiness for these further studies, the cuttings were prepared and preserved in the BASF laboratories. A control experiment simulating the environmental data from the ISS will also be conducted in BASF's laboratories to enable comparison of the results.
After the rendezvous with the ISS had been delayed by yet another day, the astronauts finally captured the Dragon capsule carrying the V3PO experiment on February 23rd at 10:44 GMT. They then spent a long day unloading all the experiments and installing them into the laboratory modules on the station.
The V3PO experiment unit was connected to a light source, a video camera and an environment sensor to measure temperature, humidity, CO2 and oxygen levels. At 19:45 GMT the experiment box went online and started sending pictures from space.
Just 23 days later, a little earlier than expected due to rescheduling by NASA, the astronauts packed the V3PO experiment into the Dragon and sent it back to Earth. It all landed safely in the Pacific Ocean off California just before 15:00 GMT on March 19.
The recovery team brought Dragon back to land, unpacked the experiments and sent them back to laboratories around the world for analysis. The V3PO team can't wait to get their experiment back in Germany.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!