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Odom Assists NASA with GBE Program

Odom Academy is one of 50 schools accepted to participate in the Growing Beyond Earth (GBE) program this school year. Established in 2015 as a partnership between Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and NASA's Exploration Research and Technology Programs, Odom is currently the only middle school participating in the state of Texas.

GBE focuses on real scientific research, enabling student community scientists to actively contribute data toward NASA mission planning. Each classroom receives a Fairchild-designed plant habitat analogous to the plant growing equipment aboard the International Space Station (ISS). GBE is a multi-classroom science project designed to advance NASA research on growing plants in space.

Odom agriculture teacher Jennifer Byrd attended a program introduction webinar over the summer and then went through the application process. She also recently attended the GBE training in Miami, Florida, at the Tropical Fairchild Garden where program directors and NASA scientists trained teachers to conduct in-classroom GBE experiments with students and share experimental data online with NASA. 

“I was thrilled when I was notified over the summer that Odom was chosen to implement the GBE program,” said Byrd. “I continuously search for opportunities to expand on student’s thoughts and sometimes misconceptions of what the agricultural industry can offer.” 

As NASA looks toward a long-term human presence beyond Earth's orbit, there are specific science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) challenges related to food production in space. GBE addresses those challenges by expanding the diversity and quality of edible plants that can be grown aboard spacecraft. On Earth, GBE is also advancing technologies for growing plants in urban, indoor and other resource-limited settings. 

The search for optimal food plants for future space travel and settling on distant planets is an ongoing effort. Worldwide scientists are researching optimal growing conditions and suitable candidates. In 2020, radishes were consumed on the International Space Station, grown in a system called Advanced Plant Habitat (APH). Radishes are a promising crop as leaves and roots can be consumed, they contain valuable nutrients and certain varieties mature in a very short period of time. They are a crop known worldwide to many different cultures, ideal for a crew with various cultural backgrounds. 

This year's challenge is to grow radish cultivars according to the NASA research protocol, collect ongoing data about the growth of radish plants and submit data so NASA can identify the most vigorous cultivar to be grown in space. Students will then use the insights gleaned from Trial 1 to design their own research protocol for Spring 2022 Trial 2.

The studies are currently being conducted with a MARSFarm, which is an in-classroom greenhouse with levels of computer sophistication that allows exploration about the future of farming in our world. “My students have been very inquisitive and excited to be able to use the MARSFarm,” said Byrd. “Engaging in authentic STEM research to support NASA’s ongoing space botany research is honestly one of the coolest things ever!”