Choctaw heirloom seeds return from International Space Station

May 3—Choctaw heirloom seeds that were sent into space as part of experiments on the International Space Station are back on Earth after spending more than five months in orbit.

A SpaceX Dragon capsule, which carried the seeds and other cargo from the ISS, successfully splashed down off the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and was brought back to NASA's Kennedy Space Center by helicopter.

The seeds were launched on SpaceX's 29th Commercial Resupply Services mission during Native American Heritage Month in November.

According to the ISS National Laboratory, the experiments exposed the heirloom seeds to microgravity and space radiation to see how the seeds grow. The results of the experiment could eventually lead the seeds to contributing to future space exploration by providing fresh, nutrient-rich foods for astronauts in missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

The project was funded by Boeing and was a collaboration between the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and the ISS National Laboratory.

Jacqueline Putnam, the program coordinator for the Choctaw Nation's Growing Hope program, explained to CNHI Oklahoma in December how much the seeds mean to the Choctaw Nation and how they protected the seeds during the Trail of Tears.

"Our ancestors knew they had to have food to start over," Putman said. "Some of these seeds were actually sewn in the hems of dresses and blouses. The soldiers wanted to keep us dependent upon the government to starve us out, so these ladies had the foresight to hide them along the trail."

Five varieties of Choctaw seeds were selected for the mission: a leafy green similar to spinach that the Choctaw call Tvnishi, a sweet potato squash called Isito, two types of peas, Tobi and Chukfi, and a type of corn used to make corn flour, Tanchi Tohbi.

The seeds will now be planted by students at Jones Academy in Hartshorne where the seeds will studied whether space exposure affects the growth of the plants.

Those who are interested in receiving heirloom seeds from the tribe can visit to print out a form to be mailed to the Growing Hope program. Seeds are made available every year between January and April of every year and are available to anybody.