Learn about plant research on the Space Station and plant your own classroom garden with space-flown seeds! Tomatosphere is an award-winning, curriculum-driven free program that uses the excitement of space exploration to teach the skills and processes of scientific experimentation and inquiry. First the Seed Foundation and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) work together to send tomato seeds to the International Space Station (ISS) and bring them back to Earth for classroom use. More than 3.3 million students have participated since Tomatosphere started in 2001.
Educators in the U.S. and Canada can register for free to receive tomato seeds that flew on the Space Station. More than 24,000 classrooms participate each year. Registration is still open to receive seeds in Spring and Summer 2017! The space-flown seeds currently being distributed spent 36 days aboard the ISS in July-August 2016. Another batch of 2.1 million seeds went to the ISS for 23 days in February-March 2017.
Each classroom receives two packages of tomato seeds, one with seeds that have flown in space and one with “control” seeds that stayed on Earth. Guided by online resources, the educator helps the class plan and perform an experiment to compare the germination rates of the two groups of seeds. The experiment is a “blind test,” meaning that the educators and students don’t know which group of seeds flew in space until they submit their experimental results to Tomatosphere.
The program has recently entered a new phase in which sensors monitor the temperature, pressure, and humidity surrounding the seeds throughout their journey. New curricular materials will help teachers and students use computational skills to work with the sensor data. Future initiatives to germinate and grow tomatoes on the ISS will further enhance the Tomatosphere experience.
As students investigate the effects of the space environment on plant growth, educators will find opportunities to discuss the challenges of meeting humans’ needs on long-duration space missions, and how a future mission to Mars might rely on growing plants for food. Free online resources include detailed guides, background information, and extension activities to integrate Tomatosphere into the classroom curriculum.