Forget freeze-dried gravy in a bag. Humans in space have just consumed real, leafy greens they grew in microgravity.
NASA posted a YouTube video today that shows Expedition 44 astronauts Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren, and Kimiya Yui toasting some of their crop of lettuce before eating it and saying, “That’s awesome.”
The crew grew the red “Outredgeous” romaine using the International Space Station’s “Veggie” plant growth system, the first fresh food production system in space, which was sent to the ISS last April.
How’d they grow the lettuce? Veggie (actual experiment name Veg-01) is a collapsible, expandable unit that uses red, blue, and green LEDs to grow plants. The seeds come in “pillows” that Kelly activated July 8 and grew for 33 days before harvest. Last May, however, the first batch of pillows was activated and cared for by Expedition 39 engineer Steve Swanson. That lettuce also grew for 33 days and was harvested and returned to Earth instead of being eaten. This time around, half the lettuce is set aside to be consumed, while the rest will be sent back home for further study.
The lab’s interesting pink hue is a combo of those red and blue lights. Green LEDs don’t emit as much light, but NASA says they’re included so that the lettuce looks like lettuce instead of “weird purple plants.”
Growing food in space is a new and exciting culinary frontier. NASA wants to use Veggie to eventually provide pioneers to Mars with the means of growing sustainable food for deep space missions, and just last week, it was announced the most acclaimed whisky on Earth is also being launched to the ISS. Researchers want to study microgravity’s effect on alcohol and figure out why ageing makes some alcohol taste better.
Astronauts won’t drink the booze, unfortunately. But if they can eventually pair those organic space greens with fine spirits, astronauts’ palates are set to become way more sophisticated.
Here’s an artist rendering of what sustainable food systems could look like on Mars. Credit: NASA