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Media contact: Brooke LeMaire
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
305-667-1651, ext. 3392
Student participants of The Fairchild Challenge research plants growing under LED lights
FAIRCHILD GARDEN LAUNCHES PARTNERSHIP WITH NASA
Coral Gables, FL, August 17, 2015 – Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is pleased to announce a new partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). For the 2015-2016 academic year, scientists and educators at Fairchild and NASA will administer plant experiments for middle and high school students participating in The Fairchild Challenge, an award-winning environmental science competition based in Miami, to determine which edible plants might be suitable for growth in microgravity aboard the International Space Station’s plant growth facility, Veggie. As the project develops, it may help to provide a more sustainable food supply for future long-term missions, perhaps even those en route to Mars.
“Since ancient times, people have been moving plants and adapting them to new environments,” said Dr. Carl Lewis, Fairchild’s Director. “It’s thrilling to think that plants grown in South Florida classrooms may someday help sustain human life in space, on Mars, and beyond.”
The purpose of the experiments designed by The Fairchild Challenge students is to expand food options and increase plant diversity by testing multiple edible plants that meet NASA’s criteria for size and edibility. Using equipment that mimics the environmental conditions aboard the International Space Station, students will test factors that may influence plant growth, flavor, and nutrition. NASA will use students’ data to determine which plants they should begin growing in space on the Veggie facility.
Veggie is a compact, LED-lit plant growth facility in the International Space Station jointly developed by NASA and Orbital Technologies Corporation. On August 10, 2015, astronauts in the International Space Station livestreamed a video of themselves harvesting and eating the first produce grown in microgravity: red romaine lettuce.
“The Veggie team is excited to think that The Fairchild Challenge students will help to find new crops that will nourish astronauts in the future on the International Space Station and someday when we explore Mars,” said Dr. Gioia Massa, Project Scientist at NASA.
Dr. Massa will join colleagues Trent Smith, Dr. Wanda Jones, and Dr. Lester Morales for NASA’s first appearance at Fairchild on Saturday, August 29 at The Fairchild Challenge Teachers’ Information Brunch, where more than 300 middle and high school teachers will be introduced to this and other new projects for their students. A NASA-led teacher workshop will be held on Saturday, September 26 to ensure teachers have the proper training and resources to assist their students. Fairchild will provide schools with shelving units, seeds, and other equipment needed for students to conduct research in their classrooms.
“This is an innovative and groundbreaking program that will give students an opportunity to participate in authentic research that has practical importance and long-term ramifications,” said Amy Padolf, Director of Education at Fairchild. “This is the new face of science education.”
Offered free of charge, The Fairchild Challenge was created in 2002 as an environmental science outreach program for elementary, middle, and high school students. Designed as a competition that appeals to students’ intellectual curiosity, The Fairchild Challenge encourages students to appreciate the beauty and value of nature and learn about environmental issues, to research possible solutions and evaluate them critically, to modify their own behavior, and to become actively engaged citizens. It currently involves more than 130,000 students from more than 300 schools including global satellite partners.
For more information, please visit www.fairchildgarden.org/Education/The-Fairchild-Challenge.
About Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Established in 1938 and comprising 83 acres in Miami, Fla., Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to exploring, explaining and conserving the world of tropical plants. The world-renowned plant collections feature palms, cycads, orchids, tropical fruit trees and more. Fairchild has the largest education program of any metropolitan area, reaching more than 200,000 schoolchildren each year with environmental programs like The Fairchild Challenge. It aims to inspire a greater knowledge and love for plants and gardening so that all can enjoy the beauty and bounty of the tropical world. Special events include Chocolate, Mango, and Orchid Festivals in addition to an annual art exhibition, concerts, plant sales and more.