Terri Sindelar Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

(Phone: 202/453-8400) RELEASE: 92-49

April 17, 1992

ATTACK OF THE KILLER SPACE TOMATOES? NOT! Space tomatoes have been popping up all over the world. In fact, more than 3.3 million budding student scientists and 64,000 teachers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 34 foreign countries have grown and compared space-exposed tomatoes with earth-based tomatoes. The students have completed their investigations and NASA has analyzed and compiled their findings. The results indicate that the space tomatoes were as healthy as their Earth-based siblings and were "tastier, juicier and sweeter!" NASA now knows that seeds can survive in space for long periods of time with little or no change in the resulting plant. The Space Exposed Experiment Developed for Students (SEEDS) is a national science project that brought students into the scientific community to experience the excitement, interaction, hope and disappointment that is the nature of science. The national science experiment involved flying over 12.5 million tomato seeds in space for nearly 6 years. SEEDS was one of 57 experiments housed onboard the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite launched by the crew of Challenger in April 1984 and retrieved by the crew of Columbia on Jan. 12, 1990. Experimental observations were compiled by students in elemen-tary through graduate school. Of the 8,000 reports returned to NASA, the findings suggest that the space-exposed seeds germinated slightly faster. In addition, the

space-exposed seedlings had a faster initial growth rate, observed for the first 3 or 4 weeks of growth. Eventually, the Earth-based seedlings caught up with their counterparts and overall, no differences were found between the two types of plants or their fruits. Many SEEDS participants did not return the data collection forms or returned partially completed forms or forms with reporting errors. Any shortcomings in data reporting should not overshadow the primary value of SEEDS: Students from all over the world contributed data and learned about science from an experimenters viewpoint. - more -2 In addition to the basic experiment, some student researchers used the SEEDS project to begin long-term research on such topics as space seed histology, chromosome morphology, and cell cycle time of the space-exposed plants and their descendents. Other student investigators are conducting third generation studies. Three student-designed experiments discovered that the space-exposed plants had greater levels of chlorophyll and carotenes than the Earth-based plants. In addition, tests found that light absorbance was greater in extracts made from space-exposed plant tissues. Finally, results from laser-induced fluorescent spectroscopy concluded that space-exposed seeds exhibited premature chlorophyll development. SEEDS was designed to be quality, hands-on science. Students experienced the successes, failures, puzzles and solutions inherent in scientific problem solving. SEEDS had all these rewards and hazards, especially to the plants. A child in Ontario wrote: "Dear NASA: Hi, My name is Matt. I am in grade 2. I really enjoy growing my plants. Here are my results. My Earth seed did not grow. My space seed grew but it fell off my desk. It died." Those plants fortunate enough to survive the rigors of the classroom were transported to the outside world to begin their new life in a garden. However, unpredicted hardships and natural disasters began to fall on these plants'

newly-found freedom. Hailstorms hit certain areas, as did late freezes, high heat and thunderstorms. Some seedlings became prey for mice, moles and worms. Other space plants suffered from "people disasters." A parent in Portland, Oregon wrote that his stepson found his space plants were not even safe from his 4-year-old stepsister's "Michael Jordan 3-point shot" when it rebounded and severely damaged both of his space-exposed plants. Miraculously, the plants survived and later produced a tomato that won the Youth Division Vegetable Oddity Blue Ribbon at the Oregon State University Extension Seed Harvest Fair. As for the fruit, researchers were quick to reveal the tantalizing effects on their tastebuds. Some reported the fruit as "tastier, juicier, and sweeter." Others claimed the tomatoes had thicker skins and more seeds. Others simply said, "Made enough Gazpacho for a week." Tests of fruit pH found no difference between space-exposed and Earth-based plants. Space-exposed plants also performed normally in tests of geotropism, tissue culturing, seed weight and phototropism.

- more -3 Interesting observations reported include differences in plant size, leaf shape and size, stem and leaf color, root size, stem thickness, and resistance to heat, cold, draught and pests. Even though many student researchers were disappointed not to see drastically altered mutant plants and fruit, it is now known that seeds can survive in space for long periods of time with little or no change in the resulting plant. One of the most interesting occurrences resulting from the experiment came from the media attention surrounding the possibility of radiation-induced mutations in the space-exposed tomatoes. A Los Angeles Times article warning of a possibility of poisonous fruit from the space-exposed plants appeared shortly after the seeds were distributed. The article was based on the science that radiation can affect the DNA of the seed resulting in lethal alterations. In the

space-exposed seeds, such somatic mutations would cause a point mutation, altering the DNA molecule at a single base pair. Such a change would only affect the resulting plant, most likely being lethal to the plant itself, and would not be passed on to the plant's descendents. It is more likely that such a mutation would occur in normal Earth-based tomatoes, given the number of tomato plants grown worldwide and the cumulative amount of radiation and other mutagens these plants are exposed to each growing season. Radiation emission occurs naturally in the environment from soil, building materials, rocks, ground water, food and even our own bodies. But as explained in the SEEDS Teacher's Guide, the effects of long-term radiation exposure was one of the chief variables of the experiment. Nevertheless, the articles added a new realm to the experiment that would have been missed had the article not been published. In most cases, teachers saw the attention as a good way to stimulate thinking and discussion about the experiment, teach concepts of radiation and radioactivity and develop an understanding of genetics and mutations. An elementary teacher in San Antonio wrote, "... the experiment and the media flap produced much discussion about radiation, mutation and the like. We feel the experience was very beneficial to the students." Many teachers reported they enjoyed eating the space-exposed fruit. One teacher planned to make tomato jam as Christmas presents. Ken Selee, a teacher in Turlock, Calif., represents so many creative teachers in the country and exemplifies the ways the "Space Tomatoes" were embraced by the world. He saw SEEDS as a way to excite students about the space program and teach good science. He organized seeds distribution throughout Turlock public schools, kept schools updated through a newsletter, developed social events to inform the public of his student's success and involved more than 500 people in SEEDS. Knowing the good weather conditions of California, Selee raced the nation in producing the first ripe space tomato. To celebrate, his classes organized the first Bacon, Lettuce and Space Tomato Sandwich Party. - more -4 SEEDS exposed future scientists of the nation to an

experiment that tests the effects of long-term space exposure on seeds and set the stage for one of this country's largest science learning projects. States one parent from Boston, "Our children were eager NASA scientists, fascinated with the concept of space tomatoes, and rewarded not only by their satisfaction coming from the completion of an independent scientific search, but also by the realization of working on a national project with unknown results. You have provided the children with a special and well designed experience which they'll always remember." Many teachers also wrote warm and encouraging words to NASA. An elementary teacher in Port Orchard, Wash., wrote, "Thank you for giving America's schoolchildren an opportunity to really be a part of the space program. I am thrilled with the level of interest today's youth have for anything that has to do with space." An elementary teacher in Brockpoint, N.Y., responded, "The part that excited my students the most was a sense of pride in knowing they were doing the same thing as students in all parts of the country. It provided great opportunities and similarities in lots of different areas, and still feel a sense of real unity as Americans." Written by an elementary school teacher in Robbinsdale, Minn., "The project was indeed exciting for all of us -- seeds from space! Do it again! Science is alive and well for my 6th graders. They felt a part of a 'real world' project. Thanks!" NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin responded, "To the elementary school teacher in Robbinsdale, Minn., and to all students, teachers, parents and communities who participated in SEEDS, we at NASA also found the project to be exciting, informative and rewarding. When government, industry and education team together, we can bring the students of America a great national science project. Many thanks to our cooperative partner, the George W. Park Seed Company. NASA plans to continue offering national science projects to stimulate interest in science through active involvement. "We sincerely hope the learning from SEEDS will continue for many years to come . . . for someday these budding scientists will be the experimenters and explorers on Space

Station Freedom and at the lunar outpost, and they will be the first Martians." - end -

"I believe that NASA has the ability to challenge minds with new frontiers. We try to capture and channel children's natural curiosity and help lay the foundations whereby students look at science as the thrilling, stimulating and the fun thing that it is. Our goal is to help foster the natural curiosity and joy of discovery with children. In so doing, NASA is committed to helping America become first in math and science by the year 2000, and to encouraging science literacy for all Americans.