Everyone needs a good meal, particularly astronauts aboard the International Space Station, who work hard conducting scientific experiments and staying alive in space. Astronauts have long had pre-prepared packaged meals to see them through their days. But what they’ve never had is fresh food. Until now.
This week, astronauts are going to be chowing down on food that has been grown in space. And romaine lettuce is on the menu.
According to NASA, this plant experiment (the entertainingly named Veg-01) started in May 2014; astronaut Steve Swanson watered and cared for the plants, which were placed in containers for them to take root in, known as “pillows.”
After 33 days, the plants were harvested—but not eaten. Instead, they were brought back to Earth for further study. A second plant pillow was activated on the ISS this July.
If this experiment bears fruit (or vegetables), it will become a key part of future missions. “NASA is maturing Veggie technology aboard the space station to provide future pioneers with a sustainable food supplement – a critical part of NASA’s Journey to Mars. As NASA moves toward long-duration exploration missions farther into the solar system, Veggie will be a resource for crew food growth and consumption,” says NASA.
So why romaine lettuce? For one, it’s notoriously easy to grow. But more importantly, it’s high in vitamin A, protein, iron, B vitamins and water. But for many, it lacks taste—and taste is something important to astronauts, who suffer from dull tastebuds in space. If NASA heeds astronaut Peggy Wilson, the next batch of pillows should grow spicy peppers.
Sidenote: Because there is no "natural" sunlight in space, LEDs are used to to grow the lettuce. Veg-01 uses red and blue LEDs, "which by design emit more light than the green LEDs. Green LEDS were added so the plants look like edible food rather than weird purple plants," says NASA.