The ‘Rutgers California Supreme’ tomato seeds were launched into space in April 1984 aboard NASA’s Long Duration Exposure Facility on Space Shuttle Challenger, and returned to earth in January 1990 on Space Shuttle Columbia. They were part of an outer space seed experiment to see if the weightlessness and long exposure to radiation in space affects the growth of seeds.
In the meantime they ended up in Italy, and in late May 2017 arrived undeclared in Sydney where they were intercepted. Head of Biosecurity Operations, Nico Padovan, said:
“The NASA space seeds were an interesting and unusual find that potentially posed a biosecurity risk, as they could carry unknown plant pests or diseases from Italy – or beyond. All seeds or plant material imported to Australia must meet our biosecurity conditions regardless of the country, or galaxy, they’ve arrived from.”
Biosecurity officers irradiated the seeds using gamma rays to mitigate the risk to Australia’s agriculture and, given their relative safety, were returned to the importer in July.
“These particular seeds posed a relatively low risk, as they did not encounter alien life forms when in orbit and the importer is keeping them on display as a collector’s item and not for sowing purposes.”
[May the (tomato) sauce be with you.]