The Wubbo Ockels Unplanned Greenhouse

Astronaut Wubbo Ockels floats in Spacelab, 1985

In 1985, ESA astronaut Wubbo Ockels and his team launched on a scientific Spacelab mission aboard the Challenger, with tools for a gravity perception experiment. The astronauts found that they had ten extra corn seeds left over from this experiment, so in a unique case of ‘spontaneous space farming’, Ockels tried growing them. In only 10 minutes, he built a small greenhouse with a piece of plastic foam in a plastic bag with a zipper. He used a knife to make holes in this greenhouse (presumably for airflow). As simplistic as this ‘greenhouse’ sounds, it was surprisingly successful, and after a few days the corn seeds germinated and the leaves grew a few centimeters. In a private interview Ockels reported that the crew threw a “little party” and everybody ate a small amount of fresh food.

About Wubbo Ockels

Wubbo Ockels was a Dutch physicist and ESA astronaut who was passionate about nuclear physics and sustainable technology. Over the course of his astronaut career, Ockels flew in space for 168 hours and 110 Earth orbits. Later he became a professor of aerospace engineering at Delft University of Technology, where he worked on various projects like Superbus, Airborne Wind Energy, and the Nuon Solar Team, which won the biannual World Solar Challenge four consecutive times. You can learn more about Wubbo Ockels and his work here.