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Growing plants and human tissue in space

Hatch Green Chile plants are pictured growing in the Advanced Plant Habitat aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The Microgravity Growth of New Mexico Hatch Green Chile as a Technical Display of Advanced Plant Habitat’s Capabilities (Plant Habitat-04) demonstrates using the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) by growing peppers in space for the first time.
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NASA
Hatch Green Chile plants are pictured growing in the Advanced Plant Habitat aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The Microgravity Growth of New Mexico Hatch Green Chile as a Technical Display of Advanced Plant Habitat’s Capabilities (Plant Habitat-04) demonstrates using the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) by growing peppers in space for the first time.

Greenery in orbit

On Earth, plant life is abundant. In space, greenery is harder to find. But NASA scientists are trying to change that. Experiments on orbit are exploring how the effects of space affect plant life and how moon or Mars-bound astronauts might grow their own food.

Fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit provide a lot of vitamins and nutrients for the human body. NASA scientists are working to bring the benefits of fresh produce to astronauts by growing fresh food on the International Space Station.

Lisa Carnell, the Division Director of the Biological and Physical Science division at NASA, said the benefits of plants extends from nutrition. She said plants can also help the astronauts mentally.

“We've done some psychological evaluations to see how this impacts the crew members and what is that psychological benefit to actually growing your own tomato or growing your own flower," Carnell said. "Those are some of the really big takeaways that are those intangible benefits that you get that you don't realize it's not just about the nutrients.”

As NASA starts to look at long-duration missions and exploring deeper into space, Carnell said this plant research is helping to make deep-space travel possible.

3D printing in space is advancing biomedical research

3D printers have been used to help with biological human studies, making things like organs or muscle tissue.

The aerospace manufacturer and space infrastructure technology company, Redwire is bringing 3D printing to space. The company has successfully printed human cells and tissue, like knee cartilage. Now, the company is attempting to print cardiac tissue on orbit.

The first human knee meniscus has been successfully 3D bioprinted in orbit using the International Space Station’s BioFabrication Facility. This is a significant step towards developing solutions to promote recovery from musculoskeletal injuries.
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NASa
The first human knee meniscus has been successfully 3D bioprinted in orbit using the International Space Station’s BioFabrication Facility. This is a significant step towards developing solutions to promote recovery from musculoskeletal injuries.

Redwire Chief Scientist Ken Savin said 3D printing is expanding possibilities for science. He said the goal is to one day print an entire heart.

"Ultimately, what we all talk about this someday printing up hearts," Savin said. "And the beauty is that we can print with tissue from the person who's going to receive that heart, it will be genetically identical."

With breakthroughs with the cardiac tissue and meniscus, Savin said 3D printing is the future for biomedical practices.

"It is where we're headed, and then it alleviates other problems that we have the fact that there aren't enough donors and most likely there aren't enough donors that are good matches for those people," Savin said.

Savin never imagined working on projects like 3D printing. He said printing human tissue feels like science fiction.

Marian is a multimedia journalist at WMFE 90.7 working as a reporter and producer for the 'Are We There Yet?' space podcast.
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