Taiwan participated in the Japan-led "Asian Herb in Space" (AHiS) program, providing four species of seeds, including Taiwan red quinoa, moth orchid, bell pepper, and sunflower seeds, which travelled in space for seven months and are now scheduled to be sent to National Chung Hsing University in the coming days. The seeds will then undergo follow-up cultivation and investigative research with the help of local primary and secondary school students.
The Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is actively developing space science and technology and promoting the space industry, and fostering space science and industry talent is one of its foundational tasks. The newly passed Space Development Act also explicitly stipulates that MOST, the competent authority, should promote the popularization of space science and nurture talent for the space industry's development. NARLabs' National Space Organization (NSPO) has implemented MOST policy by joining hands with Chung Hsing University to facilitate the participation of Taiwan students in the "Asian Herb in Space" program to promote interest in space technology.
This project began when the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) built the Kibo Experiment Module for the International Space Station. To promote the use of Kibo by researchers in the Asia-Pacific region, the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF) established the Asian Beneficial Collaboration through Kibo Utilization (Kibo-ABC) program, of which "Asian Herb in Space" is a part.
Taiwan selected four crops for the project, including Taiwan red quinoa, moth orchids, bell peppers, and sunflowers, whose seeds were transported to the International Space Station on December 7th, 2020 and stored in the Kibo module along with seeds of fourteen crops from seven other countries. On July 9th, the seeds returned to Earth after seven months in space and were delivered to JAXA in Japan on July 31st to be redistributed to their respective countries. Taiwan's seeds were sent from Japan on September 9th and are expected to arrive at Chung Hsing University in the coming days.
In addition to Asian countries choosing their own seeds to be sent to space, the "Asian Herb in Space" program also allowed for Japanese sweet basil and Malaysian holy basil to be cultivated in the Kibo module for one month, with astronauts recording and photographing their growth and finally returning them to Earth for analysis and trait investigation. All related data will be made available to participating countries as a basis for comparison. The program will also send seeds of the same type that have not been to space to participating countries to be planted and scientifically analyzed by students, with Taiwan receiving a batch of sweet basil seeds.
To welcome the return of the seeds from space, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Chung Hsing University held the "Taiwan Seeds in Space Program Promotion and Education Camp" online on August 31st, in which local primary and secondary students were taught the growth characteristics of the plants, how to cultivate and manage seeds, and how to conduct an investigation of plant traits. Instructors included Professor Chin-Ying Yang from Chung Hsing University's Department of Agronomy, Professor Yu Sung and Associate Professor Yen-Ming Chen from the Department of Horticulture, and Assistant Researcher Jau-Yueh Wang from the Biotechnology Division of the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute of the Executive Yuan's Council of Agriculture. Scientific reports from these students will then be collected and shared through international exchange.
Those registered for the educational camp included sixty-three elementary school groups, thirty-seven middle school groups, and nineteen high school groups. However, due to the limited number of seeds sent to space, the Chung Hsing University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources selected ten high school groups to cultivate and research moth orchids and thirty middle school teams to cultivate and research bell peppers and Taiwan red quinoa. Forty-one elementary school groups were also selected to conduct control experiments on the sweet basil seeds provided by the "Asian Herb in Space" program. As for the sunflower seeds, experimentation could only be performed by researchers themselves due to limited quantity.
The purpose of the "Asian Herb in Space" program is "to provide students and young researchers in the Asia-Pacific region with an opportunity to learn about space biology." Through this project, NARLabs' NSPO hopes to promote the popularization of space science and provide more opportunities for Taiwan students to learn about space science, inspiring their dreams of space. The NSPO also hopes to increase Taiwan's international visibility in the space field through international exchanges and the sharing of Taiwan students' scientific reports.