Stratospheric Sky Garden Tests Organisms’ Abilities to Survive in Space

November 9, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Cacti in the Hanging Garden of Medusa by Rachel Armstrong and Nebula science
Photo credit: Screen capture of video from DesignCurial.com

A laboratory sky garden will determine the ability of different life forms to survive in the hostile conditions of outer space.

Rachel Armstrong, Professor of Experimental Architecture at Newcastle University and Senior TED Fellow, collaborated with Nebula Sciences to send a sky garden off into the stratosphere to determine how other living organisms hold up against the trials of space. The laboratory garden was launched 85,000 feet into the sky, testing the fragility of different biological systems.

The garden is split into two levels: one where cacti is directly exposed to the high altitudes and another where artificial life forms are supported by technology that’s designed to maintain its temperature levels.

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Interestingly, the scientists found that the various cacti were able to withstand the extreme conditions of being 85,000 feet high, but the artificial life forms were completely destroyed. They also made the groundbreaking discovery that, at higher altitudes, the aging process of the protocells was accelerated. To slow it down, the researchers had to use a soap-like substance that acts as an inhibitor.

In a subsequent test, the conditions were so extreme that both the artificial lifeforms and the liquid protocells were annihilated. Now, the team is working to refine the infrastructure that supports the protocells in the stratospheric sky garden.

In an interview with Design Curial, Armstrong said the experimental approach, “appears to reveal that the artificial life forms are much less robust than our native biological systems.”

The team hopes that by exploring the different types of infrastructures that can protect both biological and artificial systems in extreme environments, the findings will help us generate “more complex pictures about how we can survive and even settle new worlds.”

Check out a video of the stratospheric sky garden in motion

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