History and Timeline of Astrobotany

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.

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

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

Gavriil Adrianovich Tikhov astrobotany
GA Tikhov

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.

1947-48 – Researchers at the University of Chicago-Illinois send lily, mustard and radish seeds towards the edges of Space with flights to between 65000-100,000 feet on a series of unmanned balloon experiments.

A chart from a 1962 report titled Animals and man in space. A chronology and annotated bibliography through the year 1960.

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.

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.

1973 – Students in Nebraska and California collaborate with NASA to observe rice growth in space as part of Skylab Student Experiment ED-61/62 Plant Growth/Plant Phototropism.

Plant Growth/plant Phototropism-Skylab Student Experiment (REF # MSFC-73-SL-7200-224) (MIX FILE)

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

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.

Scott Kelly’s Zinnia: Image Credit: Scott Kelly/NASA

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.

Additional Reading:

Agriculture for Space: People and Places Paving the Way

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