Robust, green and fresh from the garden of space – romaine lettuce could soon be the dish of the day for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
They began growing the crunchy veg earlier this month, and if the conditions are right, they’ll be eating some space-grown lettuce leaves by next month.
This is the second round of space-cultivated crops for the crew as part of the microgravity farm system, cleverly nicknamed “Veggie.” The first batch was sadly sent back to Earth untasted for necessary analysis. NASA found that there were no unwelcome pathogens or contaminants present on the lettuce, making it safe for consumption.
“We were interested to see what the texture of the plants would be like if they don’t have to stand up against gravity,” says NASA science team lead for the Veggie project Gioia Massa to New Scientist. “Maybe they wouldn’t be as crispy or crunchy. But from the crew members’ descriptions it was pretty similar to the plants here on Earth.”
This successful harvest allowed NASA to refine their irrigation systems and to scrutinize the structure of the leaf, given its unusual growth conditions in space.
All astronauts have to be aware of sanitary conditions in space as any contamination with harmful nasties could be potentially threatening for the entire crew. When the new lettuce is ready to pick, the crew will have to sanitize the leaves before tucking in. Massa comments, “The last thing you’d want is to get food poisoning in space.”
Lettuce growing inside the bellows of a prototype Veggie flight pillow. Credit: NASA/Bryan Onate
Massa envisions that the onboard crew could use this plant as an addition to their meals. However, there will be no paired condiments for this space-grown salad as Massa adds, “We didn’t send up salad dressing.”
The astronauts will sample a few leaves for themselves before sending the rest back to Earth for more tests.
And with more plants planned to be harvested, the Veggie project could be used to grow fresh foods in space for astronauts on future missions.
[H/T: New Scientist]