1996-07-01

Potato Tuber Formation and Metabolism in the Spaceflight Environment 961393

Five potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) leaf cuttings were flown on STS-73 in late October, 1995 as part of the 16-day USML-2 mission. Pre-flight studies were conducted to study tuber growth, determine carbohydrate concentrations and examine the developing starch grains within the tuber. In these tests, tubers attained a fresh weight of 1.4 g tuber-1 after 13 days. Tuber fresh mass was significantly correlated to tuber diameter. Greater than 60% of the tuber dry mass was starch and the starch grains varied in size from 2 to 40 mm in the long axis. For the flight experiment, cuttings were obtained from seven-week-old Norland potato plants, kept at 5°C for 12 hours then planted into arcillite in the ASTROCULTURE™ flight hardware. The flight package was loaded on-board the orbiter 22 hours prior to launch. During the mission, the flight hardware maintained an environment around the cuttings of 22°C (±2°C), 81% (±7%) RH and a 12 hour photoperiod using red and blue light emitting diodes at a photosynthetic photon flux of 150 μmol m-2 s-1. CO2 concentration exceeded 4000 ppm during the dark period and was controlled during the light period to approximately 400 ppm. Video downlinking of images of the plants and CO2 exchange data during the flight demonstrated plant vitality for the first 12 days of the mission followed by senescence of the leaves. The flight package was received 4 hours after landing at the Kennedy Space Center and post-flight processing of the samples was completed within 3 hours. Four out of the five space-grown cuttings produced tubers that were similar in appearance and dimension to the ground control tubers. This is an important finding if potatoes are to be used as part of a bioregenerative life support system for long-term space exploration.

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