It’s hard to imagine anyone being more excited about eating lettuce than the three astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) were yesterday, when they tucked into the first leaves of space-grown lettuce they’ve been allowed to eat. Despite having to sanitise the leaves first, with citric-acid-based, food-safe, antibacterial wipes (yummy!), they broke out the oil and vinegar and tucked in with gusto. They even thanked Mission Control and the scientists for giving them the opportunity to take part in this payload mission, and saved some veggies for the Russian cosmonauts who were outside on a spacewalk at harvest time.
The astronauts proclaimed their simple space salad “Awesome!”, and said it tasted like arugula (that’s US English for rocket). The variety chosen, a red romaine called ‘Outredgeous’, could become increasingly popular on Earth after its 15 minutes of space fame. Readily available in North America, seeds are available from Suttons in the UK.
It’s over a year since I blogged about astronaut Steve Swanson gardening on the ISS. Although he harvested his crop, he wasn’t allowed to eat it. The leaves had to be frozen and returned to Earth for safety tests first.
And whilst space veggies may capture the imagination, and be a way to encourage kids to eat their ‘reds’, the astronauts won’t be growing much of their own food any time soon. Although we’ll need sustainable systems for the planned long duration missions to Mars, scientists are still figuring out how to build them.
In the meantime, we can be amazed at this achievement, and the benefits it is bringing to agriculture at less rarefied atmospheres. NASA have an article on the benefits of space farming, which include improvements to commercial LED lighting systems, and ethylene-scrubbers that also remove airborne bacteria, moulds and fungi, mycotoxins, viruses, and odours and can be used in distribution facilities, food processing plants, wineries, distilleries, restaurants, and large floral shops and have also been added to fridges. They can aid in food preservation and disease control, and sensors developed to monitor the crop whilst the astronauts are busy elsewhere are already helping Earthlings look after their houseplants!