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Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency:JAXA
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Kibo Utilization Office for Asia (KUOA)

Introduction to the SSAF2013 Space Experiment

Last Updated: August 5, 2013

Learn how plants grow in space

A space plant cultivation project for young people will take place in Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module of the International Space Station (ISS). The aim of this project is to contribute to the training of junior scientists from the Asia-Pacific region. How about growing and observing plants on Earth yourself and comparing the results with the images sent from Kibo? Moreover, think about the reasons for the differences in plant growth between the two environments, if any? Further, once you have your results, why not exchange them with friends from Asia and other parts of the world.

What will they do in the International Space Station?

Azuki beans (seeds) will be sent to the ISS Kibo.

The azuki beans will be watered and kept in a dark place in Kibo. The beans will then be observed after approximately 7 days (the beans will have germinated by then and should look like white bean sprouts because of the lack of light). The astronauts on the ISS will make videos of the plants from many angles, as if they were your own eyes. Time permitting, the sprouts may be taken from the cultivation box for detailed observation, and the stems may be pulled and bent to confirm their flexibility and firmness.

The images obtained will be broadcast to the earth for you to view.

It sounds quite simple, doesn't it?

However, the environment in space is very different from the environment here on Earth. First, in outer space, there is no gravity; this is something we take for granted on Earth.

Although we are hardly conscious of gravity in daily life, in space, plant sprouts do not necessarily grow in the same way as they do on Earth.

It is very important to carefully observe plant growth in these two totally different environments and think about the differences. An experiment should be conducted to confirm these differences.

What you will do on Earth

Anyone can participate in the Space Seeds for Asian Future 2013 (SSAF 2013) mission. You do not even have to apply. If you are reading this, you may already be considered a part of the project.

First, please read the information here, . then design and carry out your own experiment or observation. Please record any information or opinions that could be useful to other participants from around the world, including your experimental design and ideas, problems you may have faced, failures, points you noticed, and requests. Further, once you have compiled your results, please submit your report by e-mail to

Astronauts will grow azuki beans for you in Kibo, and you will grow your azuki beans here on Earth.

Although you cannot create a weightless environment under which you can grow beans here on Earth, you will be able to experiment with a greater variety of environments than the astronauts. The astronauts will have only one opportunity to grow their beans, whereas you can repeat your experiment as many times as you wish. Even though you cannot avoid gravity, you can grow beans horizontally or upside-down. Using special equipment, you can even grow beans while whirling them to "confuse" the beans' sense of direction. Further, it may be interesting to grow beans with and without light, and compare the differences in growth.

Before the start of the space experiment, let us predict how azuki beans will grow in zero-gravity by conducting observations and reading text and reference books.

Following these preliminary studies, the participants will water and observe the beans at the same time as the astronauts and confirm any differences in sprout growth between the two environments. Add your own observations as appropriate and report the results.

Higher-grade participants may want to investigate, in detail, how plants form their plant bodies and grow their stems and roots in certain directions.

Reports on subjects that are relevant to the observations of azuki beans, including the history and culture of azuki beans, are encouraged; drawings and video sequences are also welcome.

Kibo is an excellent research facility, but that which can be done in the space is limited. Success of the SSAF 2013 mission depends on your efforts here on Earth.

Exchange with participants woldwide

As previously mentioned, SSAF 2013 is a mission that is shared among the people of the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover young people from North American, European, and African countries are also welcome.

Please submit your questions and ideas, in addition to your observational reports, via email. Reports of exceptional quality will be published on the website.

Information useful for other participants will also be published, such as observation plans, the conditions used, and the results obtained. Please let us know if you have any requests for experiments/observations that you would like to see carried out in Kibo.

Even if your requests are not possible on the present mission, they may be realized during the next mission.

[Submission rules]〔PDF:10KB〕

For teachers/instructors

ISS Kibo has become a focus of the world's attention as a symbol of Japan's advanced science and technologies. Therefore, to make use of Kibo, the Kibo-ABC initiative has been launched under the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF) with the aim of developing leaders who will shape the future of the Asia-Pacific region, including and around the world.

Currently, as part of the Kibo-ABC initiative, we are preparing for the Space Seeds for Asian Future 2013 (SSAF 2013). We hope that as many young people as possible from the Asia-Pacific region and throughout the world will participate in the SSAF 2013 mission and learn about the space environment and organisms, as well as gain valuable experience for future success on the international stage.

Anyone can participate in the SSAF 2013 mission in any way, as long as he/she does not harm the mission's objectives. No application is necessary. A person who wishes to participate will conduct experiments or observations suitable for his/her grade level, and other circumstances, by referring to the information listed on this website among other sources, and report their progress and results. Schools, volunteer groups, other teams, and individuals can participate. Schools and other group participants are requested to make use of the information sent from Kibo and create a program that is age appropriate, taking into consideration other conditions or special circumstances. Further, you are welcome to initiate activities that can be used by other groups, such as preparing materials for lower-grade participants in your native language or creating your own website.

In addition to the wonderful educational benefits of the SSAF 2013 mission, you are encouraged to make the best of this opportunity by submitting your findings or suggestions as feedback and promoting the mission through various media. The ISS exists not only for cutting-edge science, technological experiments, or for a specific audience, but can be used by anyone in any way. I hope the participants will realize that the ISS has multifaceted and immeasurable applications and values, such as capturing the interest of future leaders and increasing enthusiasm toward science.

The processing method differs between beans for food and beans for cultivation. Please do not eat the beans you will use in your experiment or any sprouts that you grow. Further, it takes a reasonable amount of skill to grow and harvest azuki beans. You will not necessarily be successful if you plan your experimental beans and sprouts in the field.

Outline of the mission

Tentative schedule of the outer-space experiment: End of August, 2013*

Seeds: azuki beans (Vigna angularis 'Erimo-shozu')

Experiment procedure:
  • Eighteen seeds will be planted in rock wool without watering and sent to Kibo.
  • The seeds will be watered using two syringes and kept in a lightproof bag in Kibo.
  • The seeds will be removed from the bag 7 days later (tentative duration). The sprouts will be filmed using a video camera, and the images will be transmitted to Earth.
  • (Time permitting) the sprouts will be taken from the plant cassette and their firmness/softness will be examined by bending and pulling them by hand. These images will be filmed using a video camera and transmitted to Earth.
  • (Circumstances permitting) the astronauts will verbally communicate to Earth how they feel while examining the sprouts.

(*Major changes may be made depending on the liftoff schedule or other extenuating circumstances.)

This brochure shows some example procedures how to grow and observe plant seedlings:Handbook 〔PDF: 1.78 MB〕

Results of the Kibo experiment

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