The first meal harvested on the ISS followed in the footsteps of many first-time vegetable growers. It was red romaine, “Outredgous,” which was selected because it was hardy, compact, and nutritious. After ‘washing the lettuce’ with sanitized wipes, the astronauts tried their salad first plain. Then, they added some olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette to bring out its flavor.
Fresh food is a real treat on the ISS. Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually limited when supply ships dock at the station. These perishable treats need to be consumed quickly.
This is more. Anyone who has grown their food will know that it tastes better when they’re the ones tending the garden.
How does your garden grow?
Astronauts in space use Aeroponics for their garden. Plants are mostly grown in air with a small amount of water rich in nutrients. A bank of LED lights in red, green, and blue provides the sun. Red and blue LED lights are enough to give the plants energy for them to grow. This provides the lettuce with an odd purple color. The lettuce was made more appealing to eat by adding green LED lights. These are less efficient and do not produce as much light. It’s not widely known that sunlight is brightest in green light.
The Veggie system prototype is being tested on Earth. NASA/Bryan Onate
Orbital Technologies Corporation developed and tested the gardening system on Earth (orbit). In April 2014, the plan was flown to the ISS as part of a SpaceX resupply flight. The system also contained three sets of seed pillows: two with zinnia flower seeds and one with lettuce seeds.
In May 2014, the first lettuce seeds successfully grew. After harvesting the plants, they were frozen and sent back to Earth in October. The plants were raised outdoors on the ISS, so they needed to be tested for microbes. This was to ensure the food that astronauts ate would not cause any harm.
After passing the food safety test, the second lettuce crop, which was grown last month, can be added to astronauts’ meals. Even then, only half of the lettuce could be consumed, and the rest was sent back to Earth to undergo food safety analysis.
The ability to grow food in space could allow astronauts to become self-sufficient during long journeys, like a trip to Mars. NASA scientists also study the benefits that come from tending to a garden in outer space.
Gardening is a great way to relax and de-stress. Although I am not a good gardener myself, I remember fondly the incredible veggie patch in the backyard of my first shared house. The garden provided a nice break from my PhD studies. There was also a joy in eating the food we grew.
Imagine the impact and value of a space garden on a long space journey. It’s a delight to have something growing and green, a tiny piece of Earth, when you are far away from home.
The American astronaut Don Pettit posted an update on his blog Diary Of A Space Zucchini.
In 2012, during a five-month stay on the ISS, Pettit grew vegetables for a personal science project. Pettit grew sunflowers, broccoli, and zucchini in zip-lock bags. These vegetables wouldn’t end up on a dinner plate. Zucchini was a valued member of the crew and had his blog.
NASA/Don Pettit A small piece of Earth floats aboard the ISS. NASA/Don Pettit
He was updated in March 2012.
“We are leafless stalks, but we sprout new tiny leaf buds. The vibrant green leaves brought a smile to Gardener’s lips. “Did I notice the small amount of water at the corner of his eye?”