Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 10, 2005

Space Seeds Return for Final Installment of 'Tomatosphere'

When the space shuttle Discovery returned safely to Earth, it brought some 500,000 Heinz tomato seeds that will be used in an ongoing space science and education outreach project involving the University of Guelph, the Canadian Space Agency, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Ontario Centres of Excellence, Stokes Seeds Ltd. and Heinz Canada. The seeds will eventually be distributed to thousands of classrooms across Canada to be tested by students in grades 3 to 10.

The students are responsible for planting, germinating and taking care of the plants, then recording and submitting germination rates and growth data to Guelph researchers.

"The goal of Tomatosphere is to infuse students with enthusiasm for space science and science in general," said Mike Dixon, chair of Guelph’s Department of Environmental Biology, who is leading the project. "As we move closer to witnessing the first mission to Mars, we recognize that the Canadian horticultural mission specialist on that inaugural trip is in Grade 3 today."

The seeds, which have been in orbit for 18 months, are the second shipment sent into space by the Tomatosphere team. The first seeds went into space aboard the shuttle Endeavour on CSA president, Marc Garneau's last mission. The current batch entered space aboard a Russian Progress rocket in January 2004.

Dixon challenges students to find interesting results in the plants that grow from these seeds because they’ve spent the past year and a half under the unique conditions found in the space environment aboard the International Space Station.

The scientific goal is to determine whether tomato seeds exposed to extended periods aboard space craft, such as a trip to Mars, will germinate and grow normally and provide astronauts with sufficient supplies of food, water and oxygen as part of a life-support system on Mars.

Tomatosphere provides students with new knowledge about plant biology and space science and involves them in the scientific process. According to Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bob Thirsk: "Students learn best when they make discoveries on their own, and the hands-on experimental approach of this educational project is undoubtedly the primary reason for its success."

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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