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Garden of zinnia plants grows on the space station

A green plot of zinnias is growing inside a floating world full of titanium, Kevlar and steel, giving astronauts a reminder of home. First, flowers, next, food?

Zinnias on the ISS
Zinnia plants may soon flower on the ISS.

It's starting to look a lot like springtime on the International Space Station. There's a small garden of zinnia plants spreading their green leaves inside the VEG-01 mini-greenhouse, way up in orbit around Earth.

NASA released a photo of the young plants inside the module today.

Astronauts don't get a lot of access to fresh, green things. Mostly they get mushed-up spinach in a bag. The VEG-01 module is an experiment working toward bringing fresh growth, both edible and ornamental, to astronauts on long-duration missions.

Zinnias are related to sunflowers and daisies and come in a variety of colors ranging from orange to purple to white. The zinnias seem to be taking to their unusual environment just fine. "These plants appear larger than their ground-based counterparts and scientists expect buds to form on the larger plants soon," NASA noted.

The VEG-01 module hosted a crop of space lettuce earlier in 2015. The red romaine lettuce went down the hatches of hungry astronauts during a live broadcast. They thought it tasted fresh and a bit like arugula. The zinnias won't be eaten, but they may end up providing a pop of color inside the ISS.

While the astronauts are looking forward to potentially seeing some pretty flowers, the zinnia experiment could have implications for food production as well. "Understanding how flowering plants grow in microgravity can be applied to growing other edible flowering plants, such as tomatoes," said NASA.