BY: THE PLAID ZEBRA The first food grown in a microgravity environment—the only lettuce ever harvested without an atmosphere— was just consumed by NASA astronauts at the International Space Station. This means big things for space agriculture, and for the diet of astronauts who are used to eating dehydrated space food, which is presumably about as appetizing as a ham Lunchable.
Expedition 44 crewmembers harvested the lettuce after 33 days using a system called Veg-01, which uses a system of multi-coloured LED lights to stimulate growth. The seeds floated in orbit for 15 months before being planted on July 8th. Now astronauts just got their first taste of home in over a year. They ate half of their bounty and sent the other half back to Earth for scientific analysis where scientists will study root distribution to make adjustments for larger scale projects.
Expedition 44 crewmembers will be forgoing Caesar dressing and bacon bits. They instead washed the lettuce, and in the process garnished it, with a citric-acid based food safe sanitizing wipes.
The purpose of the project is twofold; the ability to grow food safe for human consumption in space could mean a new frontier of innovation for space agriculture and the colonization of Mars. Secondly, the ability to garden in space could mean a hugely positive shift in the lifestyles of astronauts. While NASA notes that fresh green produce could help to protect humans against radiation in space, eating plants could also significantly improve their mental health. Being on multi-year missions into deep space, surrounded by a vapid emptiness and continuous blinking of familiar lights sounds like the perfect way to induce insanity. To counteract this, NASA believes gardening could improve well-being by giving astronauts a habit-related hobby and at the same time, a little slice of Earth.