NASA study explores mental health benefits of gardening in space

Gardening will play an important role in future long-term space missions, offering astronauts a source of healthy, fresh leafy greens — and perhaps other plant foods — while away from home. This may not be the only benefit that comes with gardening in space, however. As part of a new study, NASA is exploring whether these gardens may also help astronauts deal with the isolation of space life.

NASA has been growing plants on the International Space Station for a while now, and the project has proven fruitful. Some astronauts have been able to eat the harvested plants, and the scientists have learned quite a bit about how to effectively cultivate leafy greens in a micro-gravity environment.

That said, there's still quite a bit of research to perform on the subject, and not all of it has to do with producing food. NASA says it is currently studying whether gardening in space will have beneficial effects on astronauts' mental health, particularly whether it will help with the unique kind of isolation that comes with living in space.

The research is being conducted by Kennedy Space Center project scientist Dr. Gioia Massa and her team of experts, who received the project from NASA's Human Research Program. The effort involves a survey given to astronauts who are cultivating plants on the International Space Station, one involving questions that will help shed light on the impact this activity may have on astronauts' moods.

The study is still underway at this point, with only seven of the anticipated 24 astronauts completing the survey. However, some preliminary data is available, and it notes that all of the astronauts have viewed the activity as meaningful. Some of the astronauts preferred different activities, while others reported a fondness for cultivating the plants and reported dedicating leisure time to the project.