8 mins read 26 Aug 2021

Space Seeds are heading to schools

One Giant Leap Australia who arranged to send 5 packets of the Golden Wattle Seeds to the International Space Station, have received them back and are now sending them to over 270 schools across Australia to partake in a space-based learning community science project.

The Wattle seeds onboard the International Space Station. Credit: NASA.

Last year the One Giant Leap Australia Foundation sent Golden Wattle Seeds to the International Space Station (ISS) onboard the SpaceX CRS-21 mission. After spending several months in orbit, the seeds arrived back in Australia earlier this month and are now heading out to schools across Australia. 

The seeds will be part of an Australia wide program, which itself is part of the Asian Herb In Space Program, which will compare the growth of the seedlings that have travelled to and spent time in space, relative to those which have remained on Earth. The program provides a wide range of educational opportunities for students, not just related to space-themed learning but also understanding the requirements of the trees, where they could and couldn’t go and what they need to grow.  

“It's all about empowering teachers to do science and STEM classrooms where they might lack the confidence,”  said One Giant Leap Australia, Director and Founder, Jackie Carpenter. 

“But what is exciting is the whole idea about doing a project over a couple of years and being part of the biggest space science education experiment ever done in this country.” 

The project also brings in aspects of space ethics and agriculture as part of the educational objectives and how these skills might be applied in practice here on Earth. 

“Do you really want to grow mint on the moon? Will it go wild? Then we can talk about colonising and planting in other places and what the impact will be,” said Carpenter

It is also important to the One Giant Leap Foundation that the project reaches groups of children and communities from different backgrounds. 

“Of the 270 locations, 130 of those locations have an Indigenous population of more than 5%. 170 of those locations have a language background other than English of more than 10% and some of the places where this program is running, it's 100% Indigenous,” she said about the school groups.

Will they grow Aliens?

The Golden Wattle. Credit: S. D Searle, The Wattle Day Association Inc.

“The first FAQ on our website is will aliens grow from these seeds?” said Carpenter. “The kids would love that aliens could grow from these seeds! You can imagine the imagination that the kids bring to the project.”

The project is so much more than just growing some seeds, there is so much open-ended learning that can come from the program.  

Each school receives a comprehensive package to start growing the seeds and be part of a national science project. Inside each pack are three sets of seeds, a test set, for the teachers to run through the program and check they have everything in place, an Earth set and the space set. Each set contains six of the Wattle seeds, with the Earth set and space set having come from the same seed batch. 

“If you think about it, no one's ever done it before, not on this kind of scale. The teachers don't really want to mess up, so we're giving them six seeds that are from a different seed lot. But they haven't been to space,” said Carpenter. 

The seeds need scarification, which means along with soaking overnight, they require the outer coating to be broken by rubbing it with sandpaper. This process helps the seed to germinate. The teachers will have access to a number of resources, including videos to support their seed growing journey. 

“They get 6 seeds from the same seed lot which we call the Earth seeds, so they did not go to space, but it's the same seed lot as the ones that went to space. So now we can compare. We're going to look at the germination rates and things like that,” said Carpenter. 

Along with the seeds they get a small 12 spot seedling tray, tools for digging and watering the seeds and potting mix which has been donated by Osmocote. 

Carpenter explained there are so many things we can learn from this project, from growing food in space to how (and if) we store seeds in space, as an option to replace seed banks we currently have here on Earth. 

There is no guarantee that the seeds from space will all germinate, and according to Carpenter, that is what is exciting. This project is part of a wider program to see how the environment in space impacts different kinds of seeds. 

The travelling seeds

Australian Ambassador H.E. Mr Richard Court AC with the Certificate of Acceptance and JAXA Vice President Mr Hiroshi SASAKI with Golden Wattle seeds. Credit: Australian Embassy Tokyo.

Getting seeds into space is no easy task, especially when it hasn’t really been done before from Australia. There were some challenging bio-security issues. 

“In all the government departments everyone has been working together. We have had their support finding things out that you didn't know about and then finding people to help you through the process,” commented Carpenter.

The seeds will be travelling on to schools and community groups such as scouts and air cadets across Australia, but travelling to some destinations is more challenging than others. The kits sent to Western Australia will be minus both their seeds and their potting mix, with teachers having to wait for the seeds to make it through WA quarantine and inspection before being posted on the schools in question. The teachers will also have to take a voucher provided in their kits to collect the potting mix as it cannot cross the border into WA.  

“WA quarantine are fantastic, they've been very, very helpful. All these things you find out about, you have no idea that all this has to go on,” said Carpenter

Next year will be 30 years of the National Wattle Day which is organised by the Wattle Day Association and Carpenter is looking forward to there being Golden Wattles growing all over the country as part of the celebrations. 

“I think they heard on ABC Canberra about [the seeds in space] program and were so delighted we spent a couple of hours talking to each other about what wattle day 2022 is going to look like. 

“It will be 30 years from the proclamation of wattle next year.  So, you can imagine what wattle day 2022 will look like with all the schools that are engaged. They've already got resources on their website, so there's a song and there's all these educational resources that are available,” said Carpenter of the Association. 

Grow your own seeds from space

The Golden Wattle seeds were sourced from the Australian Tree Seed Centre. Credit: One Giant Leap Foundation.

Whilst the majority of the seeds have been allocated to schools across the country, there is still an opportunity to get involved. To apply for the program you can visit the “What’ll happen to the wattle” website to find out more. On the site are details of how to apply and a guidebook explaining how the program works and what is required. 

“We would like to see more Queensland schools. The Queensland chief scientist is really sad because there's only 15 schools in Queensland doing it. However, it needs a commitment from someone for a couple of years, the schools have got to commit to it. It's not just a simple tomato experiment,” said Carpenter. 

One school is dedicating their wattle trees to their gardener who sadly passed away last year.

“There's a school, Bribbaree in northern New South Wales. There are seven kids in that school and their gardener has passed away. He died and they were very sad, so they wanted to plant the golden wattle, the space wattle in his memory and make a memorial in this school, so every school has got a different story,” added Carpenter

You can see some of these stories on the One Giant Leap Foundation youtube channel

“People are building yarning circles with it. People are doing bushtucker trials. There is a school in WA that does wattle week already, so this is just going to enhance their program. There's a school that wants to plant one in the roundabout leading to Woolworths because everyone from that town drives to Woolworths.”

“You know, in a few years' time, when the kids have left the school and gone on to high school, they'll drive past their old school and go there's our space Wattle,” concluded Carpenter.