If you’re going to be in space for an extended period of time, there’s one thing you won’t take for granted: fresh food. Growing food in microgravity is an obvious hassle, but thanks to NASA’s veg-01 experiment, that could change due to the study in orbit of a plant growth facility called Veggie.
Developed by Orbital technologies corporation (ORBITEC) in Wisconsin, their engineers along with collaborators at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center worked to get the experiment on the SpaceX-3 mission to the International Space Station.
Veggie is a low cost and easily deployable plant growth chamber that uses a light bank that emits red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth.This is substitute sunshine.
Veggie’s unique design is collapsible for storage and transport and is expandable up to a foot and a half long. On May 8th, the first seeds of red romaine lettuce were planted under the LED lights and given 100 millilitres of water each.
Researchers back on Earth activated the plant pillows in the Veggie control chamber at Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility 24 hours later and where they’ll continue to monitor plant growth.
Lettuce seeds are currently being used as a test species and the goal is to establish whether it is then safe for human consumption. Just over 5 months later on October 25th, the on board gardener Shane Kimbrough cut some of the lettuce leaves to snack on! It is not recorded how they tasted.
What does this mean for the future?
The hope in the future is for Veggie to serve as a regular facility crews can grow crops on. This would have the exciting potential to help humans of the future go into space for longer. Longer times spent in space means food must be kept fresher for longer but with this new system we can now grow food in space and can cut the energy needed to keep food fresh.
No large scale experiment on this scale to grow crops has been done before, but the ISS is an ideal platform to run these tests on.
Dr. Gioia Massa is the NASA team lead for Veg-01 and sees it as the first steps towards the development of food production systems for the space station and long duration missions.
“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. I think that plant systems will become important components of any long duration exploration scenario.” – Source: www.nasa.gov.
So what is next on the menu? Maybe Brussels Sprouts to go with the Christmas turkey?
Written by Marie-Luise Joy @mimijoy93