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Giphy: NASA

Astronauts have grown cabbage and tomatoes in space. They have watched flowers bloom. Now, a seed experiment — scheduled to head to the International Space Station at 4:39 a.m. EDT (watch the liftoff live here) — will help to determine how much a key molecule that allows plants to grow upright against Earth's gravity can be tailored in plants grown in space.

Why it matters: The experiment is another step toward long-term space living and the colonization of other planets, which would require astronauts to grow plants for food and to recycle them as a source of oxygen and carbon. It could also help to improve growing techniques here on Earth.

The objectives:

Perfecting plants for space: Researchers are sending up strains of Arabidopsis thaliana, the fruit fly of plant research, which produces different amounts of lignin.

  • Like bones in humans, lignin supports plants and delivers water and nutrients throughout their tissues. Lignin also sequesters carbon and is a form of dietary fiber we consume but can't digest.
  • Scientists plan to analyze the expression of genes, proteins and enzymes in the different mutants to figure out how much lignin a plant needs in space.
  • Ultimately, they want to produce nutritious, more easily digestible plants whose undigested parts can be more readily recycled as a source of oxygen and carbon, says Washington State University's Norman Lewis, who leads the experiment along with colleagues from Los Alamos National Laboratory, NASA, the University of New Mexico and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

A "Rolls Royce" of plants in space: This is the latest experiment for the Advanced Plant Habitat, a prototype growth chamber set up on the space station last year.

  • With an expanded range of LED lights to grow a variety of plants and more than 180 different sensors that measure temperature, light, humidity, air composition and other conditions, "it's the Rolls Royce of growing plants in space," Lewis says.
  • Ask any astronaut, says Lewis, and they will tell you, "When you see something living in this extreme environment, it is a reminder of home."

Go deeper

Biden: "Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been"

President Biden speaks during the 40th Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the U.S Capitolon Oct. 16. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden speaking at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday honored members of law enforcement who died in the line of duty in 2019 and 2021 and saluted those who are currently serving.

Driving the news: "We expect everything of you, and it's beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the total expectations. Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been," Biden said.

Updated 5 hours ago - World

Islamic State claims responsibility for deadly bombing in southern Afghanistan

The mosque after the explosion in southern Kandahar province on Oct. 15. Photo: Murteza Khaliqi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a massive blast that tore through a crowded Shiite mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Friday, killing at least 47 people and injuring dozens more, AP reports.

Why it matters: Friday's attack was the deadliest to strike Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrew its troops from the region and is the second major attack on a Shiite mosque in a week, underscoring the Taliban's growing security threat from other militant groups.

New wave of strikes will test worker power

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Thousands of John Deere workers hit the picket line this week after the union smacked down a new worker contract from the farm and equipment maker.

Why it matters: There’s a wave of worker angst spreading across the country. They wield new power that’s come with a historic worker shortage.