Tomato seeds carried by America’s two ill-fated space shuttles made their way into the soft brown earth Monday.
Fourth-graders in Becca Hirschfeld’s Cochise Elementary School class in Scottsdale each planted three of the tiny light-brown, smooth seeds as part of a science experiment to test their reaction to long-term solar radiation exposure, the deep cold of space and lack of water after the seeds were placed in orbit in a satellite launched by the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984.
When the Challenger exploded Jan. 28, 1986, the seeds stayed up longer than the intended one year — until Space Shuttle Columbia retrieved them in 1990. Columbia blew up during re-entry a year ago.
"They were about to lose orbit," said Gayle Hall, a science lab instructor assistant. "It’s a miracle the seeds came back to Earth successfully."
Students also paid tribute to the seven astronauts killed when Columbia came apart in the atmosphere Feb. 1, 2003.
As part of NASA’s Space Exposed Experiment Development for Students, 12.5 million seeds were placed aboard the satellite.
After they returned and were distributed to teachers, a report was issued warning of the radiation effects.
Though NASA quickly released proof the seeds were safe, many teachers had thrown them away.
At Cochise, they had been placed in a drawer 14 years ago, until Hall dug them up this year.
"If we keep planting these seeds for generations, 80 years from now we can say these seeds used to be part of the space experiment," said Dillon Lane, 10.
Students each came up with their own ideas as to the results of the experiment — whether fuzzier, new seeds would grow bigger or smaller than those that had traveled past the Earth’s atmosphere.
"I think they maybe will turn up a different color or something," said Caroline Booth, 9. "Me too," added Katie Cuff, 9. "Like kind of brown."