TomatosphereTM: Sowing the seeds of discovery through student science

Is it possible to grow fruits and vegetables in space despite the challenges of weightlessness and radiation? What types of seeds could germinate in space's hostile conditions? Since , over three million students across Canada and the United States have worked to answer those questions by taking part in the Tomatosphere program. This educational project's hands-on approach to learning gives students a real taste for science.

Food for thought: Let's talk Tomatosphere with astronaut Thomas Pesquet

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet explains the Tomatosphere project. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA, ESA, Let's Talk Science)

Space agencies around the world are working to send humans to Mars. Since bringing enough food for a mission lasting two to three years would be too expensive and impractical, astronauts will have to grow their own healthy food while in space.

In the closed environment of a spacecraft, plants grown on board can make a huge contribution to life-support systems. Plants can provide food, produce oxygen, and recycle carbon dioxide and some organic waste.

How to participate

  1. The teacher orders a seed kit.

    Two batches of seeds will be sent:

    1. A batch that has been exposed to the space or space-like environment
    2. A batch of control seeds, for comparison
  2. The students grow all of the seeds in the classroom "blind," without knowing which are space seeds.
  3. They measure and record information about the tomato plants including germination rates and growth patterns.
  4. They submit the results online so that they are available to scientists who study horticulture and environmental biology.
  5. The students bring the tomatoes home and make a salsa that's out of this world!

Order your seeds for free

Tomatosphere TM

Grade 6 students from Byron Northview Public School in London, Ontario, plant Tomatosphere seeds with Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen and Bonnie Schmidt, President and Founder of Let's Talk Science. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Teaching students to think like scientists

By participating, students can:

Why tomatoes? Because they are easy to grow, versatile, nutritious and delicious. In , over 272 million kilograms of tomatoes were grown in Canadian greenhouses.

The next batch of Tomatosphere™ seeds in space!

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly holds a bag of 600,000 tomato seeds. These space seeds were distributed to approximately 18,000 classes in Canada and the United States during the school year. (Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)

Illustration of the tomato seeds journey. Description follows.
Tomatosphere Project - Infographic - Text version

Take a bite out of the science with Tomatosphere!

  1. 1.2 million tomato seeds are prepared to be sent to space.
  2. The seeds travel to space in the belly of a dragon—SpaceX's Dragon spaceship, which transports the seeds to the International Space Station.
  3. The tomato seeds spend about four weeks in space.
  4. Back on Earth, the seeds are sent to 20,000 classrooms across Canada and the United States. Students then grow the space seeds and compare them with regular seeds. They will only find out which seeds went to space when they complete the experiment.

Why grow tomatoes in space?

Future crews on long space missions will not be able to take all their food with them—they will need to grow plants, which will add oxygen and water and remove carbon dioxide from the environment. Why tomatoes? They are easy to grow, versatile, nutritious and tasty and make a great space salsa!

Since it began in , Tomatosphere has reached over 3 million students.

(Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Partners

The Tomatosphere project is a collaboration between:

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