Multiple Flight Projects Selected from the International Space Station Cotton Sustainability Challenge

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April 23, 2018

Projects selected from the challenge, sponsored by Target Corporation, seek to improve cotton sustainability by leveraging the International Space Station

Kennedy Space Center, FL (April 23, 2018)  The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) today announced the selection of three projects from its Cotton Sustainability Challenge. The challenge, sponsored by Target Corporation, provided researchers and innovators the ability to propose solutions to improve crop production on Earth by sending their concepts to the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. The challenge sought potential solutions to benefit cotton production by improving water sustainability. Through this collaboration, CASIS and NASA will facilitate hardware implementation and in-orbit access to the ISS National Lab, while Target will provide grant funding for selected proposals. CASIS is the organization tasked by NASA with managing the ISS National Lab.

Selected projects include:

Field Scale, Aggregated Best Management Practice Verification and Monitoring
Marshall Moutenot, Upstream Tech (Alameda, CA)

Upstream is a public benefit corporation with the mission to create economic forces that drive environmental conservation. To do so, Upstream has created a customizable and scalable machine learning platform that utilizes data from Earth-observation satellites to inform and empower public, corporate, and nonprofit sectors to make evidence-based decisions related to water use, management, and conservation. Upstream proposes to leverage ISS remote sensing imagery to expand the capabilities of its “Best Management Practice Assessment and Real-time Monitoring” platform to enable the automated monitoring and analysis of cotton agriculture and inform Target’s production-related water use goals for sustainable cotton production.

Unlocking the Cotton Genome to Precision Genetics
Christopher Saski, Clemson University (Clemson, SC)

 This project proposes to use the tools of genetic sequencing to examine gene expression, DNA methylation patterns, and genome sequences of three different cotton cultivars using embryogenic callus material (plant embryos that are formed from somatic plant cells not normally involved in plant embryogenesis and development). Each of the cotton cultivars responds and regenerates differently when grown in tissue culture on Earth. In the absence of gravity, the differences between cotton cultivars during the process of regeneration—and their ability to grow from embryogenic callus material—may be affected and could reveal new insights into the genetics of plant growth and regeneration. A better understanding of these processes (and differences between cultivars) will advance fundamental biological knowledge and could improve our ability to grow cotton plants that more efficiently use water and adapt to changing environments.

Targeting the Roots of Cotton Sustainability
Simon Gilroy, University of Wisconsin (Madison, WI)

Roots play a central role in a host of plant functions that are critical to plant survival. The ability of cotton plants to produce cotton bolls and survive stress requires that their root systems provide water and nutrients. Cotton plants that overexpress the AVP1 gene show increased resistance to stressors such as higher salinity and drought and yield 20% more cotton fiber under these conditions, which normally limit cotton productivity. These stress-resistant features have been tentatively linked to an enhanced root system that can explore a wider and deeper volume of soil for water and nutrients. Such exploration patterns are inextricably linked to gravity, which directs the growth of main and lateral roots. The ISS National Lab provides a unique opportunity to investigate which environmental factors and genes control cotton root-system development and function in the absence of gravity-related patterning. This experiment will assess the degree to which root system architecture influences stress resilience, water-use efficiency, and carbon sequestration during the critical phase of seedling establishment.

The challenge provided researchers a novel way to leverage microgravity to evaluate avenues for more sustainable cotton production. Cotton is a natural plant fiber produced in many countries and one of the most important raw materials required for the production of textiles and clothing. Cotton cultivation requires sustainable access to natural resources like water that are increasingly threatened. This challenge sought to engage the creative power of the research community to leverage the ISS National Lab to innovate and generate ideas that will improve the utilization of natural resources for sustainable cotton production.

Bringing awareness to cotton sustainability is a powerful opportunity to showcase the unique research facets of the International Space Station,” said CASIS Director of Commercial Innovation and Strategic Partnerships Cynthia Bouthot. “We look forward to working alongside Target and our selected researchers as they prepare to send innovative research to our orbiting laboratory.”

All grants and subsequent flight opportunities are contingent on final contract agreements between the award recipients, CASIS, and Target.

To learn more about the capabilities of the ISS National Lab, including past research initiatives and available facilities, visit

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About CASIS: The Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) is the non-profit organization selected to manage the ISS National Laboratory with a focus on enabling a new era of space research to improve life on Earth. In this innovative role, CASIS promotes and brokers a diverse range of research in life sciences, physical sciences, remote sensing, technology development, and education.

Since 2011, the ISS National Lab portfolio has included hundreds of novel research projects spanning multiple scientific disciplines, all with the intention of benefitting life on Earth. Working together with NASA, CASIS aims to advance the nation’s leadership in commercial space, pursue groundbreaking science not possible on Earth, and leverage the space station to inspire the next generation.


About the ISS National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the International Space Station as the nation’s newest national laboratory to maximize its use for improving life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing STEM education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by other U.S. government agencies and by academic and private institutions, providing access to the permanent microgravity setting, vantage point in low Earth orbit, and varied environments of space.

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