NASA is sending a really cool garden to the International Space Station on April 14, on board the SpaceX Dragon. For the first time in history, astronauts will grow their own food in space using this groovy disco box, an important step towards future long-term space travel and extraterrestrial colonies.
Outredgeous red romaine lettuce plants grow inside a prototype Vegetable Production System (Veggie). Veggie will grow safe, fresh plants for food and provide recreational activity to crew aboard the International Space Station.
Until now, all plant growth in space has been limited and geared towards scientific experimentation, not actual food production for astronauts.
Veggie — as the device is known — will provide a way to grow fresh produce in 28 days. According to Gioia Massaa postdoctoral fellow in the Surface Systems Group of Kennedy’s Engineering Directorate — Veggie can also provide with other vegetables:
Veggie could be used to produce faster-growing species of plants, such as lettuce or radishes, bok choy or Chinese cabbage, or even bitter leafy greens. Crops like tomatoes, peas or beans in which you’d have to have a flower and set fruit would take a little longer than a 28-day cycle.
The experiment may seem inconsequential but it’s not. Astronauts don’t often get fresh food and — when they get it — “it gets eaten almost immediately”. This box will give them a steady supply of fresh vegetables with minimal energy and resource use. It’s far from the full gardens that science-fiction authors imagine in big stations and spaceships, but it’s a first step in that direction. It will also pave the way to food production in future Mars and Moon colonies.
This study will emphasise the focus on human habitability in space, since growing food in space may greatly improve long-duration spaceflight. Veggie can support a variety of studies used to determine how plants sense and respond to gravity. Astronauts will harvest the plants for further investigation. With continued plant growth studies aboard the space station using facilities like Veggie, crews may one day consume produce during long-term missions in low-Earth orbit or to an asteroid or Mars.
Little step by little step, but we are getting there.