Nick Fetty | August 12, 2015
Astronauts in the International Space Station did something this week that’s never been done before: grow and eat food in space.
The astronauts on Expedition 44 harvested red romaine lettuce from NASA’s experimental plant growth system called Veg-01. This system consists of a “microgravity environment in which plants grow from seed ‘pillows’ under primarily red and blue LED lights.” The first “pillows” were activated and nurtured by the crew on Expedition 39 in May 2014. These plants grew for 33 days in space before returning to earth and undergoing a food safety analysis at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The current crew will eat half of the lettuce harvested and preserve the other half for scientific analysis when the crew returns to earth. NASA scientists cite that developing methods for sustainable food production in space will be crucial in the agency’s Journey to Mars mission, which aims to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
“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,” NASA Project Scientist Gioia Massa said in a statement.
The Expedition 44 crew consists of astronauts from Japan, Russia, and the United States. The crew is expected to return to earth in December.