Manned Mission to Mars a Step Closer Thanks to Schools Science Experiment

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Tim Peake and over half a million school children hear the results of innovative space research


The results of a national schools’ science experiment to analyse how seeds grew after spending time in space could take us one step closer to fulfilling scientists’ dreams of colonising another planet.

The mass experiment, called Rocket Science, which was devised by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in partnership with the UK Space Agency, compared the growth and development of rocket seeds (Eruca sativa) that spent time on the International Space Station (ISS) with Tim Peake, with those that had remained on Earth.

A detailed analysis of the data provided by the 600,000 young people who took part in the experiment, found that the space seeds - which had been subject to violent vibrations while breaking clear of the Earth’s gravitational pull, microgravity, fluctuating temperatures and space radiation for six months, only grew marginally less well than those that had remained on Earth.

This tells scientists that seeds that have survived both the rigours of a journey to space and being stored for several months, are still viable and can germinate and grow. This finding takes scientists closer to knowing whether astronauts could grow edible crops on long space missions and potentially harness the power of plants to sustain future space colonies.

RHS Director of Science and Collections, Dr Alistair Griffiths said: “Knowing that the seeds were largely unaffected by extraterrestrial factors will add to ongoing research looking into how astronauts could become self-sufficient gardeners in space and ultimately on other planets.

“Further research has to be done to help us understand the impact of space-gardening on the nutritional value of plants and the psychological benefits particular plants can bring to astronauts who, if they are venturing to Mars, will be away from Earth for several years.”

European Space Agency astronaut, Tim Peake said: “I want to say a huge thank you to every single young person that took part in this project. I had great fun watching your photos and messages pour in via Twitter while I was working on board the International Space Station. It was brilliant to see you all enjoying being part of such a fascinating science experiment – and a spot of gardening too

“I hope that this project and my Principia mission have inspired you to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects throughout your time at school or college. There are many exciting and rewarding careers out there waiting for you. If you work hard and aim high, there is no reason why you cannot achieve your dreams.”

On the 2 November, at the Principia Schools Conference at the University of Portsmouth, Tim will hear from children involved in the 30 projects supported by the UK Space Agency, including Rocket Science. The young people will have the chance to meet Tim, share their findings and celebrate their achievements.
Rocket Science was designed to raise the profile of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in schools and inspire a new generation of horticultural scientists.

For more information please contact Garfield Myrie on 020 7821 3060 / 07590 930 047 or  / Claire Weaver on 020 7821 3043 or 
A full colour report detailing the impact and results of the project has been published today. ‘Rocket Science: Our Voyage of Discovery’ can be downloaded from:  

Find out more about the RHS Campaign for School Gardening at:


Notes to editors

The average (mean) results from all data collected in the Rocket Science experiment*:

About the Results:
To compare the seeds, multiple randomised controlled tests were carried out by schools and youth groups over a 35 day period. These results were then analysed with the help of Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland (BioSS). The results found that overall, the Earth seeds germinated slightly faster and grew better than the space seeds. At the end of the 35 day experiment the majority of schools and youth groups found that there were more Earth seedlings alive than space seedlings.

The Rocket Science findings are further backed up by a germination experiment conducted under laboratory conditions by the RHS and Royal Holloway University in London. The research supported the overall national findings that the Earth seeds germinated only slightly faster than the space seeds.

About the RHS Campaign for School Gardening
The RHS Campaign for School Gardening actively involves more than 29,000 schools and educational organisations across the UK in horticulture. It aims to inspire young people about plants, gardening and their environment and consider further education and careers in horticulture and science. Through gardening they learn about healthy food and wildlife as well as important life skills such as teamwork, social skills and co-operation. Resources including information, lesson plans and advice for schools is provided online and is backed up by support from the RHS Education team and RHS Campaign for School Gardening Regional Advisors. Schools and youth organisations can sign up to RHS Campaign for School Gardening online:  

About the RHS Science Strategy
The founding purpose of the RHS was to improve the science, art and practice of horticulture, with horticulture and science firmly placed at the heart of the Society. The RHS science strategy focuses on four key themes to deliver improvements in garden and plant knowledge, plant health, human health and wellbeing and good stewardship of our gardens and garden plants:

Theme 1. A global knowledge bank for gardening and garden plants: To share knowledge and promote the conservation, cultivation and use of gardens and ornamental plants.

Theme 2. Plant health in gardens: To help safeguard against the increasing number of pests and diseases and help gardeners achieve an optimal balance between wildlife benefit and horticultural enjoyment.

Theme 3. Gardening in a changing world: To develop sustainable resource use in gardens and help better understand how plants and gardens can provide benefits for our environment and health and wellbeing.

Theme 4. Plant science for all: people, plants, planet: To ensure our accumulated expertise and research results inspires others and is made available to gardeners, industry, government, policy- makers and society as a whole.

Find out more at  

About the RHS
The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. Our vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener, healthier, happier and more beautiful place. We believe everyone in every village, town and city should benefit from growing plants to enhance lives, build stronger, healthier, happier communities and create better places to live.

We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity. At our gardens and shows and through our scientific research, publications, libraries and our education and community programmes we inspire a passion for gardening and growing plants, promote the value of gardens, demonstrate how gardening is good for us and explain the vital roles that plants undertake.

The RHS is committed to bring the joy of gardening to millions more people, inspire the next generation of gardeners and invest in the future to safeguard a £10.4 billion industry employing more than 300,000 people. We are entirely funded by our members, visitors and supporters. RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and help us secure a healthy future for gardening. For more
information call: 020 3176 5820, or visit  

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262

About the UK Space Agency
The UK Space Agency is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions.

At the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space, we are responsible for ensuring that the UK retains and grows a strategic capability in space-based systems, technologies, science and applications. We lead the UK’s civil space programme in order to win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefit to all citizens.

We work to:
• co-ordinate UK civil space activity
• encourage academic research
• support the UK space industry
• raise the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad
• increase understanding of space science and its practical benefits
• inspire our next generation of UK scientists and engineers
• licence the launch and operation of UK spacecraft
• promote co-operation and participation in the European Space programme

About the European Space Agency
The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.
ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.
ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of whom 20 are Member States of the EU.
ESA has established formal cooperation with seven other Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes.
ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.
Learn more about ESA at

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262