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Now, space-grown veggies on the menu for NASA astronauts

August 10, 2015 13:04 IST

Space: the final frontier for leafy greens.

Members of the International Space Station Expedition 44 crew are undertaking a first for humanity: tucking into greens grown right there on the space station, in zero-gravity.

A giant leaf for mankind: NASA plans to grow food on future spacecraft and on other planets as a food supplement for astronaut. Photograph: NASA

On Monday, the crew members will sample the “Outredgeous” lettuce grown as part of National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s plant experiment Veg-01 in the veggie plant growth system.

NASA said that the astronauts will clean the lettuce with citric-acid-based sanitising wipes -- which sounds like a terrible dressing, frankly -- before eating half of their harvest.

The other half will be frozen and brought back to Earth for analysis. It’s unclear how the lettuce will be prepared, whether it’ll be part of some sort of space salad, or just as garnish for regular dehydrated space food.

While Monday’s healthy snack won’t likely be particularly filling for the astronauts, it could pave the way to future crops grown on the space station and even other planets.

Lettuce eat? The crop of 'Outredgeous' red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system. Photograph: NASA

According to NASA, the Veggie technology serves a number of purposes aside from simply allowing astronauts to eat nutritious food. The program is meant to explore the prospect of growing vegetables in space as NASA plans the exploration of other planets, like Mars.

“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,” Gioia Massa, a scientist for NASA, said in a news release from the space organisation.

NASA scientists also believe that tending to a garden in space might provide a therapeutic experience for astronauts during expeditions that are often isolating and mentally grueling. 

Ready to eat: The veggies will be washed with citric-acid-based sanitising wipes before being consumed. Photograph: NASA

The Veggie technology was delivered to the space station in April 2014, along with romaine seeds and one set of zinnias. The astronauts grew and harvested the produce over a 33-day period. The Veggie unit features varying-colour light-emitting diode lights to help plant growth and controls for humidity and temperature.

NASA said it hopes “space gardening” will become a “valued feature of life aboard the space station and in the future on Mars.” So, add a green thumb to the long list of traits you’ll need in the future to become an astronaut.

WATCH how veggies grow on the space station HERE (external link)