NASA’s astronauts on the are ready to taste fresh food grown in the micro-gravity environment of space officially is on the menu for the first time on the International Space Station.
The space agency announced on Friday that a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce will be tested on Monday by Expedition 44 crew members including NASA’s one-year astronaut Scott Kelly.
Before consuming the leafy greens, the astronauts will clean it with citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes. They will eat half of the space bounty, setting aside the other half to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis.
NASA’s plant experiment, called Veg-01, is being used to study the in-orbit function and performance of the plant growth facility and its rooting “pillows,” which contain the seeds.
NASA is maturing Veggie technology aboard the space station to provide future pioneers with a sustainable food supplement – a critical part of NASA’s Journey to Mars. As NASA moves toward long-duration exploration missions farther into the solar system, Veggie will be a resource for crew food growth and consumption. It also could be used by astronauts for recreational gardening activities during deep space missions.
The first pillows were activated, watered and cared for by Expedition 39 flight engineer Steve Swanson in May 2014. After 33 days of growth, the plants were harvested and returned to Earth in October 2014. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the plants underwent food safety analysis. The second Veg-01 plant pillows were activated by Kelly on July 8 and grew again for 33 days before being harvested. The seeds had been on the station for 15 months before being activated.
The Veggie system was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin, and tested at Kennedy before flight. Veggie, along with two sets of pillows containing the romaine seeds and one set of zinnias, was delivered to the station on the third cargo resupply mission by SpaceX in April 2014.
“Blue and red wavelengths are the minimum needed to get good plant growth,” Wheeler said(Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at Kennedy).
“They are probably the most efficient in terms of electrical power conversion. The green LEDs help to enhance the human visual perception of the plants, but they don’t put out as much light as the reds and blues.”