An example specimen from the genus Epidendrum

Orchid flowers can seem otherworldly, but did you know that the Soviet Space Program once sent blooming orchids into orbit?! Epidendrum orchids were cultivated in Malachite, a small growth chamber flown on Salyut 6 for 110 days. This 1973 orchid experiment was designed to investigate the psychological comfort that cosmonauts felt when interacting with the plants. The orchids were launched in bloom, but unfortunately the flowers immediately fell off the stems. These orchids produced no additional flowers in orbit, so no seeds resulted from this experiment. At that time Malachite was one of the largest plant growth chambers ever sent to space, and although its orchid experiment was largely unsuccessful, it paved the way for even larger growth chambers that were yet to come.

Chamber Components:

  • Four planting boxes
  • Cloth sack filled with ion exchange resin
  • Water supply system
  • Illumination system (though one source, Zabel et. al., indicates that plants were grown using light from the cabin)
  • Note: this chamber was open-air to the cabin environment

Descriptions of Malachite and its experiment(s) have been difficult to find in the literature. If you’re aware of any Malachite-related literature that is not listed below, please send it to our contact page.

Malachite plant growth system as exhibited in the Memorial Museum of Astronautics in Moscow (photo taken by Bamsey in 2014).