A Madison, Wisc., tech developer is helping crew of the International Space Station stick to mother’s advice to eat their vegetables.
ISS Expedition 44 crew, including NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, will get to sample the first fruits of their gardening labors on Aug. 10 — some red romaine lettuce grown in their orbiting laboratory with a system created by Orbital Technologies.
The astronauts will clean the leafy greens with sanitizing wipes, then eat half of the lettuce and save the other half to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis. NASA’s plant experiment, dubbed Veg-01, is aimed at studying in-orbit plant growth and the plant-growing system’s rooting “pillows,” which contain the seeds.
“NASA is maturing Veggie technology aboard the space station to provide future pioneers with a sustainable food supplement — a critical part of NASA’s Journey to Mars,” the space agency said in detailing the project Aug. 9.
The first pillows were activated, watered and cared for by Expedition 39 flight engineer Steve Swanson in May 2014. After 33 days of growth, the plants were harvested and returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for safety analysis. A second crop of Veg-01 plant pillows were activated by Kelly on July 8 and grown for 33 days before being harvested.
In addition to nutritional benefits, space veggies can offer the ISS crew a psychological boost, said Alexandra Whitmire, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Earth studies have shown plants are associated with well-being and optimal performance, she said.
“Future spaceflight missions could involve four to six crew members living in a confined space for an extended period of time, with limited communication,” Whitmire noted.
It’s believed that plants could serve as a helpful countermeasure for long-duration exploration missions.