A recent study featured in the Journal of American Society for Horticultural Science explores the effects of the outer-space environment, specifically its microgravitic conditions, upon growing sweet potato. An experiment conducted by Desmond Mortley and his colleagues from the Center for Food and Environmental Systems for Human Exploration of Space, the G. W. Carver Agricultural Experiment Station and the Kennedy Space Center presents intriguing possibilities for the provision of food supplies in space travel.
The experiment’s line of inquiry is predicated on the fact that sweet potato growth and development from stem cuttings is not fundamentally compromised, and therefore may hold potential in off-planet conditions. Effectively speaking, Desmond, et al (2009) sought to explore the extent to which environmental conditions, as an independent variable, influence the sweet potato’s growth and development as the dependent variable in their experiment.
The experiment called for sweet potato stem cuttings to be grown in the microgravitic conditions of the space shuttle Columbia in spaceflight, for five days, and compared with stem cuttings on the ground as a control group. It was found that both sets of stem cuttings possessed similar root growth, but those on the shuttle developed longer roots and acquired a greater concentration of soluble sugars and starch. Ultimately, their conclusion was that sweet potato is not adversely affected by microgravitic conditions and hold promise as a food supply in space.
One of the fundamental shortcomings of the experiment is that it does not address a long-term view of sweet potato growth in outer space. By conducting the study on such a short time frame of five days, it overlooks possible complications on longer space flights that may prove to negate its promise as an outer-space food supply. This is not to suggest that the results are invalid, but rather, initial attempts to put sweet potato to use as an outer-space food supply must be complemented with space-proven food supplies while further studies are conducted regarding its long-term viability.
REFERENCES Mortley, D. G. , Bonsi, C. K. , Hill, W. A. , Morris, C. E. , Williams, C. S. , Davis, C. F. , Williams, J. W. , Levine, L. H. , Petersen, B. V. , & Wheeler, R. M. (2008, May 1) Influence of Microgravity Environment on Root Growth, Soluble Sugars, and Starch Concentration of Sweetpotato Stem Cuttings. Journal of American Society for Horticultural Science, 133, 315-475.