History and Timeline of Astrobotany

Discussion and speculation about plants in space has been around since the early 20th century. The Russian astronomer and astrobiology pioneer Gavriil Adrianovich Tikhov was the first to use the term astrobotany.

This paper, written by astrobotany pioneer Dr. Raymond Wheeler, is an essential reading which details a history of astrobotany:

Agriculture for Space: People and Places Paving the Way

Check out our page on astrobotany literature for research papers in chronological order.


Timeline

astrobotany across the zodiac

1880 – novelist Percy Greg writes Across the Zodiac: an early science fiction story about a space traveler who goes to Mars with plants. This is one of the earliest mentions of plants in space.

konstantin tsiolkovsky astrobotany

1895 – Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky speculates about orbital greenhouses in space in “Grezy o Zemle i Nebe” (Dreams of Earth and Sky).

gavriil adrianovich tikhov astrobotany

1945-47 – Russian astronomer Gavriil Adrianovich Tikhov coins the term  astrobotany (1945) and founds the Deparment of Astrobotany at Alma-Ata Observatory (1947).

astrobotany V2 rockets

1946 – Harvard biologists and U.S Naval scientists team up to launch the first seeds on repurposed V-2 rockets at White Sands, New Mexico.

jack myers nasa astrobotany

1954 – Jack Myers tests algae for bioregenerative life support systems for the USAF and NASA. This is the beginning of a space agency’s first serious interest in utilizing plants in life support.

astrobotany moon trees

1971 – 500 tree seeds are flown around the Moon on Apollo 14. These will be planted on Earth upon their return and are referred to as Moon Trees.

salyut 7 astrobotany

1982 – Soviet cosmonauts grow Arabidopsis onboard Soviet Salyut 7.  These are the first plants to produce seeds and flower in space.

BRIC 2 astrobotany

1995 – NASA begins using BRIC (Biological Research in Canisters).  Arabidopsis will be flown using this hardware.

2014 – Data retrieved from BRIC19 aboard the ISS yields the first ever complete transcriptome RNA sequencing of arabidopsis thaliana, allowing for monitoring of every single gene in arabidopsis.

2016 – Zinnia blooms aboard the International Space Station under the care of U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly.

2019 – Cotton sprouts and quickly dies aboard Chang’e, the first spacecraft to be landed on the dark side of the moon.  This is the first known astrobotany experiment performed on the lunar surface.