Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Disclaimer: I am indeed a NASA shill

Conspiracy theorists can safely ignore anything I have ever written about such things as the moon landing being real because I had connections with NASA as a teenager. Here's proof -- a 1998 article from the Medina Gazette:

NASA tomato 1

I'm the scary-looking girl, of course, next to Phil Jones, who was one of a very few people my age that I had ever met. The creepy-looking younger kid was Daniel Marciniak, whose Boy Scout skills I admired. We were standing next to the garden in my driveway, in front of tomato plants... from outer space.

Yes, that's right. OUTER SPACE.

Hence, my involvement with NASA: In 1984, Space Shuttle Challenger brought some tomato seeds up into orbit in an experiment that was only supposed to last several weeks. Unfortunately, when Challenger was on its way to get the seeds back, it exploded, killing all the astronauts on board.
` This, by the way, is the event that inspired a very young Phil to become an aerospace engineer rather than an astronaut.
` These seeds, unexpectedly being exposed to years of radiation, eventually found their way into my garden. Therefore, I am a NASA shill. Es l√≥gico, ¿no?

Without further ado/pickles/paramecia, the actual newspaper article:

NASA tomato 2

Every time I see that picture of Heather Lovas, it brings back memories that make me wonder whether or not her nose and chin have grown into one another. I hope she doesn't sue me for reproducing her neat-o wow article:
When the time comes to leave this planet and seek a new home, mankind will probably carry along the seeds to grow a new kind of garden among the stars. 
History's great explorers carried seeds to grow food in their new homes. But in space, man will face a new set of challenges -- challenges being addressed by today's scientists.
I'm assuming that women will also be there in space, barefoot and pregnant, in order to populate those colonies?
While their experiments may seem like the stuff of science fiction, it is real and exciting. 
As a big science fiction fan and a known Trekkie, I would like to go where few gardeners have gone before, and a group of home-educated students in the county have done just that.
Another disclaimer: I was not home-educated, I was home-mistreated, so please do not make the mistake of thinking that my life was as wholesome as the article suggests. (Probably none of ours were, really.)
As part of an ongoing experiment, students Phil Jones, 17, of Lafayette Township, Medina's Sarah Hazel, 16, and Seville's Dan Marciniac,[sic] 12, spent the summer growing Rutger's Tomato seeds from space. 
The Space Exposed Experiment Developed for Students is a national cooperative experiment involving NASA's Educational Affairs Division, NASA's Langley Research Center and Park Seed Co. of Greenwood, S.C.
There you have it, folks, damning evidence that the three of us kids were working for NASA, without pay!
In April 1984, the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger placed in orbit the Long Duration Exposure Facility satellite. This free-flying satellite contained 57 different experiments of various applications, one of which was SEEDS. 
In January 1990, NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia safely retrieved the LDEF satellite and brought it back to Earth.
...Yes, Columbia had to step in because of Challenger's LDEFail.
The SEEDS project was designed for fifth-graders through college-level students to conduct open-ended research. The project placed 12.5 million Rutger's tomato seeds provided by Park Seed on board the LDEF satellite. It was the first experiment conducted to study the effects of long-term space exposure on living tissue.
 And they got more radiation than what they had bargained for!
While on board the LDEF, the seeds were housed in five aluminum canisters along with equipment to record temperature fluctuations and radiation levels. 
The tomato seeds, after spending more than 5 1/2 years in space, were returned to Park Seed for preliminary testing and preparation for the planned distribution to students around the country.
Amazingly, they found, the seeds were still viable after all that irradiation. Jackpot!!
Teachers were able to send applications to NASA requesting SEEDS project kits for their students. The kits consisted of 50 space seeds and 50 ground-based control seeds. 
Rhonda Jones of Lafayette Greenhouse in Lafayette Township received the SEEDS kit in the spring and planted them with the help of her son, Phil, a budding aerospace engineer.
Budding... ha. And here's the picture from the back of the paper:

NASA tomato 3

No need to read the image, as my rambling continues:
After the space seeds and the regular Rutger's germinated, each student planted and cared for the normal Rutger's in their gardens at home. 
They periodically met to compare notes, share observations and conduct experiments upon the strange tomatoes they grew.
It was considerably less "Mua ha ha" than one might think, but still kinda cool:
The students shared similar results. The seeds just rocketed out of the soil, germinating in 24 to 36 hours, they said. Normal Rutger's, on the other hand, can take several days to germinate. 
All three students found the space tomatoes stunted in height -- about half as tall as the normal Rutger's tomatoes. The stems were wide and flat, described by the students as resembling a carpenter's pencil. 
The stems were hairy, as were the leaves, which were also asymmetrical. Flower blossoms appeared around July 14, and flower clusters were much more numerous on the space seed plants. This made for a much more productive plant. (It was a good thing the stems were thicker and the plants were shorter, Phil said. They were so heavy with tomatoes a regular stem would have snapped under their weight.) 
The space tomatoes were actually smaller in size, with an average weight of 6.1 ounces. All three students had ripe fruit in 79 days, an unusual coincidence in the world of gardening.
It's strange how random genetic damage to many individual seeds can cause exactly the same effects in each of them. Almost as strange were the leaves, which had one number of lobes on one side, and different number of lobes on the other. Sometimes, one side would have several lobes and the other would be completely smooth like half an oval.
The tomatoes tasted somewhat sweeter than a normal Rutger's and were meatier, with much fewer seeds.
I like the way that "much fewer" is almost an oxymoron, but not quite.
The space tomatoes showed so many unusual traits the students thought the DNA must have mutated. They decided to look at the pollen under a microscope to see if there were any differences, and were surprised to find they couldn't see any. More sophisticated equipment is needed to explore these possibilities further.
Rhonda's microscope was pretty good, although our only method of imaging the pollen was drawing it. Pencil and paper -- that's some pretty basic equipment right there.
Some individual observations by the students: 
Marciniac, who grows a garden of his own, has found the tomatoes would crack in circles around the tomatoes. [sic] He also thought the radiation exposure sped the growth process. But as the season progressed, it was almost as if the effect wore off and the plants resumed a more normal rate of growth.
As I recall, those plants got a lot of watering at first, which might explain this phenomenon.
Hazel enjoys science fiction so much she is writing a sci-fi book complete with illustrations. She thought the space tomato had skin so perfect it almost looked plastic.
By the way, my sci-fi book was later stolen by my PsychoDad, who hauled it off to Nevada, along with my bicycle, my computer, my five years of diary, and some of my underwear, so I'd like to thank him for his last act of trying to stop me from being awesome, and of depriving humanity of my novel.
` By the way, a new sci-fi story is on the way. It's about friggin' time!
In 1996, Jones and a teammate, Adam Comstock, took first place in Aerospace Engineering at the National Engineering Science and Leadership Event held at Purdue University with a rocket called Polaris.
Those guys were not screwing around, that's for sure. That's why Phil completed many hard years of education at Ohio State and is now a successful aerospace engineer. (Adam probably would have had similar success if he hadn't tragically died of a heart aneurysm only a few years later -- talk about a career-stopper!)
When asked what he thought of the space tomatoes, he summed up the experience with, "They are definitely NOT Rutger's tomatoes anymore." 
Now that the growing season is over, the students will compile their observations and send them to NASA, which will be compiling the data. All students who participated in the experiment will receive a copy of their overall findings.
The three students said they would like to continue with the research. They plan on growing the seeds of the space tomatoes next year.
And we did -- although my PsychoDad repeatedly disrupted both the fermentation and drying processes, on purpose, apparently in an attempt to make me look like an idiot. It backfired, though.
NASA's aim with this project was not only to conduct experiments using space seeds, but to encourage young minds to explore the possibilities with a hands-on approach to scientific research and to learn science can be fun. 
I can't think of a better way for young minds to start exploring space than from their backyard gardens.
What about backyard telescopes? That way, you're at least looking at space. Moving beyond this article, the second generation of tomatoes showed far more variability than the first, as though the genetic abnormalities were losing their potency.
` Up until 2005, Rhonda kept selecting for those plants with the same strange qualities as the first generation, and after four or five rounds of this, the population became 100% uniform once again.
` I remember seeing their branches sagging under the weight of a hundred tomatoes, which were dropping off in heaps because one could not use them fast enough. Their fruit were more orange in color compared to normal Rutgers, and they also stored in the fridge for a much longer time.

The legacy of our particular NASA tomatoes may not be over yet, however -- Rhonda still has the seeds, and those keep for up to 30 years. What uses may these plants yet have in modern agriculture?

As for Phil, who was sane, nice, and smart enough to be my boyfriend later on for five whole years, went on to design airplanes at the Boeing facility in Everett, Washington, which is coincidentally very near my house. He is, in fact, the reason that I drove out here from Ohio.
` However, I made it clear to him that I'd never lose my virginity to him, and later fled in terror when he bought me a platinum engagement ring with sapphires meant to symbolize the stars of Orion.
` I haven't seen him since 2006, but I'm pretty sure that he is currently married, loves to climb mountains, still composes on the piano, lives on Whidbey Island (which I can see from my window), and bicycles past my neighborhood on his way to work.

As for Daniel Marciniak, all I know is that he was a creepy and enthusiastic Boy Scout with a Catholic shrine at his house that he tried to get one of my friends to pray to. He wanted to be a priest until he went to school with other students and decided that he liked girls too much for that.
` I didn't know what had ever happened to Daniel, so I called up someone who might know, who said that the last he had heard, Daniel had graduated from high school in 2004. On Facebook we found an UberCatholic-and-Boy Scout-oriented Daniel Marciniak from Medina, Ohio, who has been living in Kansas with his wife... and they've been reproducing!
` I noticed that he has some really nice photos, mostly of nature, some of Catholic-oriented things, and OMG HE STILL WEARS THE SAME KIND OF HAT. When my informant noticed the large number of 'Friends' on Daniel's Facebook page, he said, "What foolish people they must be!"

And me, I've been surviving harrowing situation after harrowing situation since after dealing with my dad, and somehow managed to pass enough college classes to get an AA. Now that I no longer live with music-blasting degenerates who eat my food and keep me away from my work and sleep, I might actually have some success in my writing career as well.
` Although I have never been on NASA's payroll, my association with NASA as a 16-year-old means that I cannot be trusted. So, if I ever dismiss structures on Mars as artifacts of jpeg compression or some such, it's not because I believe it, but because some hired goon will kill me if I say otherwise. Thanks for understanding. /tongue-in-cheek>

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