Pushing envelopes isn't just for test pilots at NASA -- Ed Rosenthal's agricultural creativity has been so successful that it is getting ready to take its place in the Space Technology Hall of Fame, a program of the Space Foundation.
A few years ago, Rosenthal reached out to NASA’s Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, or SATOP, designed to help small businesses overcome technological challenges using expertise derived from NASA. NASA helped in his testing and development of polymer coatings for time-release fertilizers for growing plants. His company, Florikan, has been improving and marketing these products to commercial greenhouse growers, and expanding more and more into home (yard) and field agricultural applications – and now he can add space to this growing list.
"I figured if it works in Florida, it will work anywhere else . . . including space," Rosenthal said.
For years, plant researchers from Kennedy Space Center have been testing this fertilizer named Florikan Controlled Release Fertilizer (CRF) that is blended by Rosenthal’s company. Nearly three years ago, Dr. Gioia Massa, Veggie project scientist, reached out to Rosenthal and discussed how the Veggie team had been using a Florikan CRF on ISS and asked if he would like to collaborate on a grant proposal for future Veggie experiments involving Chinese cabbage and dwarf tomatoes.
"The Florikan Controlled Release Fertilizer provided all the nutrients for our plants to grow well," said Dr. Gioia Massa, of NASA's Veggie science team. "It worked exceptionally well in our very unique conditions."
According to Dr. Ray Wheeler, a plant physiologist with NASA, Florikan has been a great partner in helping develop specific fertilizer formulations that could improve growth of plants in the Veggie growth systems.
"Controlled or time-release fertilizers have advantages for both commercial and home users," said Wheeler. "With Florikan CRF, we now only require a single application, which can last for months. This technology avoids rapid release of nutrients typical for most conventional fertilizers, which can leach through the soil and even get into waterways."
Florikan’s CRF fertilizers have been used for Veggie experiments on the International Space Station, and they will be used for the Advanced Plant Habitat that will fly to the space station later this year.
Back in Florida, Florikan set up their new CRF production facility in Bowling Green, providing new jobs to an economically depressed area of the state.
“The induction of Florikan’s Staged Nutrient Release (SNR) Fertilizer into the 2017 Space Technology Hall of Fame is a prestigious award that exemplifies the kind of mutually beneficial innovative solutions that can be achieved when industry and government partner to solve common technical challenges,” said David Makufka, Kennedy’s Technology Transfer Program manager.
Florikan, NASA Kennedy Space Center and SATOP will be inducted as Innovating Organizations into the Space Technology Hall of Fame. In addition, J.R. Simplot will be recognized with a commendation for the significant role they have played in allowing world-wide distribution of SNR Fertilizer, thus providing access of the product and its many benefits.