The First Space-Grown Vegetables Are Ready
This quick clip filmed aboard the International Space Station features what is probably the most excitement ever expressed towards a head of lettuce. Astronauts Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren, and Kimiya Yui of Japan were able to sample some red romaine leaves, which are the culmination of years of NASA research.
Since May 2014, NASA's Veggie System has been working on growing fresh vegetables in a microwave-sized box under LED lights. And even that came after decades of experimentation with space-farming, in which the results were sent back to Earth for testing. The current system includes work-arounds for all the ways space disrupts the natural growing process: A "pillow" of aerated clay, to which water is added, compensates for the fact that there's no gravity to keep moisture down by the plant's roots; a series of fans work to constantly circulate fresh air, as a stand-in for a normal breeze; and artificial lights replicate the sun's schedule.
Considering all the work and time that went into the veggie-growing endeavor, this particular head of lettuce didn't take too long to grow. "July 8 it started. We had 33 days of growth, and the plants were just fantastic, I mean, big, large leaves," Trent Smith, Veggie System's project manager told NPR.
In a Q&A on Facebook, NASA said the plants grown in space are essentially identical to regular Earth versions—they're the same basic size and shape, and boast the same nutritional value. For those of us down on Earth, this might not seem that exciting. But after months of nothing but freeze-dried meals, regular old lettuce is a welcome addition to the menu.
"That's awesome, tastes good," Lindgren told mission control in Houston.