‘Palm in Space' safely reaches International Space Station

28 July 2019

The UAE Space Agency, the College of Food and Agriculture at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) and NanoRacks have confirmed the palm seed experiment, that forms a part of the ‘Palm in Space’ project, has safely reached the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment was transported to space by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, propelled by the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The mission departed from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA, carrying the experiment and a range of supplies to the ISS.

The palm seed experiment is the first of its kind and is the result of the UAE’s ongoing contribution to international efforts to improve food security on Earth and in space. This is one of the key focus areas of research that scientists and experts from around the world are engaged in, and the palm seed experiment aims to advance our understanding of cultivation and agriculture in space by attempting to germinate palm tree seeds in space and then studying them further upon their return to Earth.

A parallel experiment will be conducted on palm tree seeds within the laboratories of the College of Food and Agriculture at UAEA, the ‘Palm in Space’s scientific and research partner, in order to enable scientists to study, compare and analyze the differences in growth between the seeds exposed to the environment in space and those that remained on Earth. The seeds sent to the ISS will eventually be returned to the Earth and planted at UAEU to enable this comparison and further study.

Dr. Khalid Al Hashimi Director of Space Missions, Science and Technology at the UAE Space Agency, said: “We are very proud to announce the safe arrival of the unique ‘Palm in Space’ experiment to the International Space Station. This experiment is the result of our tireless efforts to advance our national space sector and further demonstrates to the international space community our commitment to working together to explore space and tackle some of humanity’s greatest challenges.”

“We chose to send palm tree seeds to the International Space Station both because of their importance to the UAE’s culture and heritage, as well as the fact that they are able to withstand the harshest of conditions and are often planted in circumstances that resemble aspects of the Martian environment,” added Dr. Al Hashimi.

Professor Bhanu Chowdhary, Dean of the College of Food and Agriculture at United Arab Emirates University emphasized the significance of the ongoing collaboration between UAEU and the UAE Space Agency in furthering scientific research into food security in outer space and efforts to find solutions to the region’s agricultural challenges.

Professor Chowdhary said: “We are committed to conducting high quality research, in line with international standards, to meet national objectives to develop knowledge in the areas of food and agriculture and the use of the UAE's natural resources.”

“At the College of Food and Agriculture at UAEU, the ‘University of the Future’, we seek to develop and deploy new technologies with the aim of achieving food security, specifically in the UAE, taking into consideration that climate and environmental changes will impact the provision of food for the people of the world,” added Professor Chowdhary. 

Jeffrey Manber, Chief Executive Officer of NanoRacks, the leading provider of commercial access to low-Earth orbit, said: “The palm seed experiment and other Emirati experiments that will be sent to the International Space Station over the coming period are the culmination of our efforts and cooperation with the UAE, which will open the door to further partnership and collaborations in the future between us. We treasure this solid relationship and are proud of it. The UAE will be represented for the first time on the International Space Station as a leading and aspiring country in this field, and what better ambassador than growing palm tree seeds from the UAE that hold a special place in Emirati hearts and minds and are a symbol of the country’s heritage.”

The palm tree seeds were delivered to the launch platform by Emirates Post, the leading postal service and express delivery solutions provider in the UAE. The launch of the experiment was organized by NanoRacks, in cooperation with SpaceX and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NanoRacks will also oversee the safety, data recording, launch and the operation of the experiment, which will study the plant’s ability to germinate and adapt to the zero gravity conditions in space.

The UAE Space Agency also sent an oil emulsification experiment to the ISS aboard the Dragon spacecraft, which was organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Education to study the differences that occur in emulsifications under zero gravity conditions. This experiment will be the starting point for more physical experiments and projects related to zero gravity, density and other characteristics of matter.