ISS astronauts set to taste fresh space-grown lettuce

Photo Credit: NASA

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will have their first taste of fresh space-grown vegetables.

The Expedition 44 crew members, including U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, who planted the lettuce seeds on July 8, will carefully clean the small head of a red romaine lettuce with citric-acid based sanitizing wipes before dividing it in half. One half of the harvest will be feasted on by the crew members while the other half will be packaged, frozen and sent back to earth for scientific analysis.

The harvest was grown in a plant growth chamber appropriately called “Veggie” that was developed by Orbital Technologies Corporation (Orbitec).

According to the News Minute, a Veggie unit features a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation. The red and blue LED lights give the purplish colors of the lettuce. The green light was added to make the plant look more edible.

“To avoid producing crazy purple space plants, the engineers behind the experiment decided to add green to the mix,” Gizmodo said in an article about the space plant laboratory.

The experiment of in-orbit plant growing dubbed “Veg-01” is designed to study the performance of the Veggie plant growth system and its rooting “pillows” that contain the seeds.

“One of the plant experiment’s goals is to verify the Veggie hardware is working correctly. Another goal is to establish that the space lettuce is safe to eat,” Dr. Gioia Massa, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration science team leader for Veggie.

She said the Veggie and Veg-01 represent the preliminary steps toward the “development of bioregenerative food production systems for the space station and long-duration exploration missions.”

“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,” Massa said.