Space Tomato Seeds Yield Fruit (1985)

Disclaimer: The following was transcribed from an article in the Capper Foundation Archives published by the The Topeka Capital-Journal. The choice of words used at the time this was written may not reflect current Capper Foundation inclusive language and views.

Space Tomato Seeds Yield Fruit (1985)

After six years of space orbit, packages of tomato seeds have returned to Earth to bear fruit in Capper Foundation’s Garden Club soil in Topeka. The tomatoes harvested Friday were fairly good-looking in this, a bad summer for tomatoes.

Sharon Burghart, an 18-year paraprofessional at the foundation and leader of the student’s garden club, supervised the growing and distributing of the fruits of the clubs labors. She divvied up bit-size bits of control “Earth” tomatoes for students and allowed several adults to taste both space and control Earth tomatoes.

The control and space tomatoes were both Rutgers — a non-hybrid that will reproduce with little change — and from the same batch as the 12.5 million seeds sent up in five canisters.

“There were no differences,” Burghart said of the tomatoes germination, growth, size, ripening and tastes. “But there might be later.”

She said scientists want to find out if successive generations of the tomatoes might turn out to be genetically altered by six years of radiation, wide temperature swings and weighty gravity forces. She has committed the school’s garden club to planting and keeping track of successive generations.

The tomato-in-space project was a ballyhooed joint effort between NASA and the George Park Seed Co., which furnished the seed for the Long Duration Exposure Facility satellite, which the Challenger space shuttle placed into orbit in early 1984.