A new system has being tested which will lead to the growth and harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables in space!
Monday, July 10th Scott Kelly, a NASA astronaut, and his crew members were finally able to have a taste of the red romaine lettuce that has been grown right there with them in space.
This harvest was the second batch of Veg-01 plants. They were planted by Kelly himself on July 8th and grew from seed for thirty-three days under different panels of LED lights. The plants were placed in a collapsible Veggie unit created specifically for growing plants in space.
This wasn’t the first batch grown, but it will be the first batch eaten! Last year, Expedition 39 flight engineer Steve Swanson also grew some lettuce but his harvest was sent back to Earth for some food safety analysis. Because it is an entirely new venture, the food needed to be tested for harmful microbials. Since Swanson’s harvest passed inspection, Kelly’s lettuce has been deemed safe for consumption! They will still need to clean the lettuce with food-safe sanitizing wipes before digging in, but they will at last be able to chow down! Half of the space harvest will be eaten and the other half will be sent down to Earth for more scientific analysis.
This breakthrough is important for so many reasons. NASA has said that it is a giant step towards being able to have a successful mission to Mars. Long deep-space missions have a very unique set of requirements and demands. NASA Veggie scientist, Gioia Massa, said that astronauts being able to grow their own fruits and vegetables will provide “atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits”. She said:
“The crew does get some fresh fruits or vegetables, such as carrots or apples, when a supply ship arrives at the space station (…) But the quantity is limited and must be consumed quickly.”
Ray Wheeler is the head of Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office. According to him, the natural anti-oxidants in fresh produce provide important protection against space radiation. The recreational act of gardening will also have a positive impact on the astronaut’s mental well-being. He states:
“Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people’s moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space.”
Alexandra Whitmire is a NASA Behavioural Health and Performance Research scientist. She believes that this new breakthrough provides a better chance for successful explorations and gives astronauts a more comfortable environment to complete their work. She also thinks that having something to take care of could be just the thing astronauts need to decompress in such a stressful environment. She states:
“Future spaceflight missions could involve four to six crew members living in a confined space for an extended period of time, with limited communication. (…) It will be important to provide training that will be effective and equip the crew with adequate countermeasures during their mission.(…) The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits. (…) I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario.”
Astronauts being able to grow their own food in space, especially on long explorations, is such a historic accomplishment for NASA. But the technology used to do so could also mean significant breakthroughs down here on Earth!
Dubai imports over 90% of their fruits and vegetables. With the heat being so extreme, they struggle with growing their own fresh produce. These veggie units could be a huge resource for places where the climate doesn’t allow for much vegetation growth.
A big ole green thumbs up to you, NASA! I can’t wait to see what space mangoes look like!
NASA Johnson “Astronauts Take First Bite of Space-Grown Lettuce” Youtube. 6 August 2015. Web. 11 August 2015.