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Astronauts Dine on Lettuce Grown on the ISS
What Do Astronauts Eat in Space now?
Recently astronauts aboard the international space station chowed down on the first bite of space lettuce. NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Scott Kelly, along with Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui got their dose of leafy greens while orbiting 240 miles above the surface of the the Earth. This an important step to self sustaining systems: NASA scientists grew the lettuce in zero gravity over a period of 35 days. It's not the first batch though, other plants have been grown aboard the station but were returned to Earth to be examined. A study published in the journal BMC Plant Biology in 2010 discussed the small white flowers grown in space to see how they would grow without gravity. And just last year lettuce was grown that was sent back to Earth to be analyzed for safety concerns. Once they got the okay from mission control, another round of plants were grown -- this time, for express purpose of being consumed.
The ISS uses something called the "Veggie" system, developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. in Madison, Wisconsin. The system contains lighting and nutrients for a space garden. This particular garden contains red, blue and green LEDS. The red and the blue mostly for plant growth and health, the green? So the plants don't look weird under the red and blue lights and resemble lettuce grown here on earth. The plants get their nutrients from a "pillow". And pillows can come in various sizes depending on what kind of veggies are grown in them. Pillows only work once though, but that's by design. That way there's a reduced chance of microbial growth from the system and plants. For plants that might have more microbes, a sanitization method they can do in the space station will have to be developed. Like Scott Kelly and his buddies for instance used citric acid-based, food safe wipes to clean the lettuce before eating it.
Growing plants without Earth's soil will be crucial to any long-term trip to a planet like Mars or any long-term space travel. With limited resources and not a lot of chances for restocking along the way, expeditions would have to be self-sustaining. Scott Kelly called this experiment a "big step in that direction." And just in case you were wondering, Kelly said the lettuce tasted "awesome."
Astronauts Snack on Space-Grown Lettuce for First Time (Space.com)
For the first time, at least officially, the NASA astronauts on board the International Space Station have tasted the product, or more specifically, the produce, of their work.