NASA Astronauts Eat Space-Grown Vegetables for the First TIme

Monday, 10 August 2015 - 10:18AM
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Monday, 10 August 2015 - 10:18AM
NASA Astronauts Eat Space-Grown Vegetables for the First TIme
Today, August 10, could mark a "space Thanksgiving" of a sort, as NASA astronauts will eat space-grown vegetables for the first time aboard the ISS, in a significant step towards NASA's Mission to Mars.

The space lettuce was grown during NASA's experiment Veg-01, which aimed to allow astronauts to grow and eat their own food during deep space missions. In this program, rooting "pillows" with seeds in them are activated by an astronaut. They are then watered, tended to, and harvested after 33 days.

This isn't the first time vegetables have been grown in space, as astronaut Steve Swanson activated the first pillows last year. But in that experiment, the entire crop was sent back to Earth for observation, while in this case, half will be sent back to the astronauts' home planet and half will be eaten around the dinner table. 

It won't be exactly the same as eating lettuce on Earth, as the astronauts are required to sanitize the lettuce with citric acid before consumption, but having fresh vegetables available would go a long way, both towards the astronauts' nutrition and sense of normalcy. NASA astronauts receive some vegetables after supply runs, but the amount is extremely limited, and they must be consumed quickly lest they go rotten in the harsh environment on the ISS.

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"Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people's moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space," NASA's Dr. Ray Wheeler, who worked on the project, told ABC.
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NASA Behavioral Health and Performance Research scientist Alexandra Whitmire agreed that the psychological impact of fresh food, and generally more Earth-like meals, couldn't be underestimated:

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"Future spaceflight missions could involve four to six crew members living in a confined space for an extended period of time, with limited communication," Ms Whitmire said. "It will be important to provide training that will be effective and equip the crew with adequate countermeasures during their mission."
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This project will be especially important to NASA's long-term plans, as giving astronauts the ability to grow their own food will be essential once we begin to plan a long-duration trip to Mars and other deep space locations, and especially if we ever plan to colonize another planet.

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"The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits," said Whitmire. "I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario."
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Update: The harvest has been carried out. Early signs seem positive from the astronauts...
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