NASA astronauts have tasted veggies that were literally grown out-of-this world!
NASA astronauts on the International Space Station will get their first bite of ‘space lettuce’ today, when they harvest a crop of red romaine lettuce that has been cultivated over the past 33 days in the orbiting lab’s special Veggie plant growth system.
The ‘space lettuce’, which has been grown naturally from seeds planted by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly on July 8, will be cleaned using citric acid-based sanitizing wipes before being divided up between the Expedition 44 crew members for ‘taste-testing’. The astronauts will get 1/2, and the other 1/2 will be packed up, frozen, and returned back to Earth for the necessary scientific examination.
Grown within the NASA’s Veg-01 experiment, the lettuce has been exposed to red, green and blue LEDs in order to see how they respond to an environment that offers none natural sunlight. While only the red and the blue light is needed to ensure that photosynthesis can still take place (they combine to produce the pinkish light as you can see in the picture below) the scientists also added in the green light as well, so they didn’t come up with some startlingly purple leaves.
“Blue and red wavelengths are the minimum needed to get good plant growth,” Ray Wheeler from NASA’s Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office said in a press release. “They are probably the most efficient in terms of electrical power conversion. The green LEDs help to enhance the human visual perception of the plants, but they don’t put out as much light as the reds and blues.”
The seeds used had been stored on the ISS for the past 15 months. The first-ever batch of space lettuce was harvested in October 2014 and sent straight home to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida for a safety check up. If today’s last-test goes well, NASA will explore ways to grow more edible and earth-deficient crops on the ISS, and will look into how they can provide deep-space and long-duration mission teams with nonstop available fresh food. In the future, we might even have similar experiments set up on the surface of Mars!
Have a look at this artist’s impression of potential Mars set-up:
“There is evidence that supports fresh foods, such as tomatoes, blueberries, and red lettuce, are a good source of antioxidants,” said Wheeler. “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 also says that besides the obvious health benefits of having fresh vegetables year around, the psychological benefits of having a lovely green garden, up in the clean, toxin-free space are likely to be significant!
“The Veggie experiment is currently the only experiment we are supporting which involves evaluating the effects of plant life on humans in space,” said Alexandra Whitmire, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre engaged with figuring out how to reduce any psychological complications associated with a Mars mission.
“Future spaceflight missions could involve four to six crew members living in a confined space for an extended period of time, with limited communication,” she said. “We recognize it will be important to provide training that will be effective and equip the crew with adequate countermeasures during their mission.”
“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 benefit,” NASA’s Gioia Massa adds. “I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario.”
Now, all we want to know is what it feels like to include these veggies in your diet. Although, chances are small we will have a bite of them very soon, we trust them when they say: “It feels fantastic guys!”
Cheers to these space heroes: The came, they saw, they conquered the space lettuce!
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