UAE Space Agency to launch Palm Seeds to the ISS in the next few days

18 July 2019

The UAE Space Agency will launch palm tree seeds to the International Space Station (ISS) in the next few days. The first of its kind study aims to discover the effects of the space environment on seeds and their agriculture potential beyond Earth. The UAE Space Agency is conducting this experiment in cooperation with the College of Food and Agriculture at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) and NanoRacks.

The seeds will be launched from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 Rocket, which will carry SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, making it the 18th mission of SpaceX to the ISS.

Emirates Post, UAE’s leading postal and express provider, shipped the seeds to the site and NanoRacks coordinated the launch of the seeds within the framework of the Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA. NanoRacks will be responsible for overseeing safety procedures, data registry and conducting the experiment on the ISS.

The study will focus on the seeds’ behavior and their water absorption in zero gravity. They will be returned to Earth after two months of extensive experimentation. The seeds will then be planted on Earth to enable further research, analysis, and experimentation, with a special focus on the potential changes they experienced due to their space journey.

This experiment forms a part of the Palm in Space project that explores the potential of planting palm trees on Mars. Palm tree seeds will be sent for experimentation on the ISS, and later could be sent to Mars for planting. The UAE Space Agency launched the project as a part of its activities to recognize the Year of Zayed by incorporating Sheikh Zayed’s passion for planting palm trees into its efforts to advance scientific research with aim of positioning the UAE as one of the top countries worldwide.

The project supports international efforts to achieve food security on Earth and in space. It represents the UAE’s continued contribution to developing solutions to the agriculture, food, water and oxygen challenges presented by space colonization. These studies also tackle some of the agriculture challenges that we face on Earth, especially in countries with harsh weather conditions and water scarcity, such as the UAE.

Commenting on the new experiment, Dr.Khaled Al Hashmi, Director of Space Missions at UAE Space Agency said: “The rapid development of our national space industry allows us to launch some of the most complex projects in the field. This project is a testimony of the UAE’s key role in space research. This project also falls within the framework of the UAE Space Agency’s strategic objectives for supporting space research in the UAE, and its efforts to promote regional and international partnerships.”

Rashid Al Zaabi, Project Supervisor said: “This project is in line with the UAE’s ambitious initiatives in the space sector, which include Mars 2117 and Mars Scientific City, which aims to simulate life on Mars and explore sustainable solutions for sourcing food and water.”

Al Zaabi added: “We are experimenting on palm seeds as they are usually planted in circumstances similar to the Martian environment. Palm trees are deeply rooted in the UAE’s heritage, and are the oldest trees in the region. Should this experiment succeed, palm trees and the UAE name will be linked to great success in the space sector.”

Commenting on the initiative, HE Abdulla M. Alashram, Acting Group CEO of Emirates Post Group, said: “The UAE is once again demonstrating its strong position within the space industry and we are proud to collaborate with the UAE Space Agency on this ambitious experiment, particularly when it involves palm trees which symbolize our culture and heritage. This initiative is aligned with our commitment to support the nation’s pursuit of innovation and excellence and we look forward to seeing the results.”

Palm trees played a pivotal role in the pre-oil era. They are among the very few trees that have all their parts and products utilized for the benefit of humanity. In addition to the great nutritious value of dates, palm trees’ trunks and fronds, and fibers are used for handicrafts too.