Today, astronaut Kjell Lindgren harvested a crop of red romaine lettuce, and for the first time ever, members of the International Space Station crew will eat fresh food grown in space. Scott Kelly and Kimiya Yui documented and assisted with the taste-test, which was live-streamed from space.
Growing fresh food can potentially boost the morale and health of astronauts, and also make farther space-travel possible. “On the way to Mars, and on the way back, we’re not going to be able to get supplies,” said Kelly during the live-stream. “We’re going to have to be self-sufficient.”
The “Veggie” experiment grew the lettuces in a unit developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. in Madison, Wisconsin. The system uses LEDs and pre-seeded “pillows.” It uses efficient red and blue lights for the growth of the plants. The Veggie unit has been compared to the size of a microwave and weights about 15 pounds. It was delivered to the space station by a SpaceX resupply mission in April 2014.
“Who wants lettuce?” Asked Lindgren as he cut off some leaves with small shears. “I’m going to harvest half from each plant.” Some of the harvest will be frozen and sent back to Earth for evaluation.
They tried the romaine by itself first to get the full effect, then added some vinaigrette. “We’ve got some extra-virgin olive oil and some Italian balsamic vinegar to use as salad dressing,” said Kelly.
This is the second crop of plants grown in the Veggie unit. The first crop was cultivated in the spring of 2014, and after growing for 33 days in space, was sent to Kennedy Space Center for an evaluation by NASA. The plants were found to be free from bacteria and safe to eat. Kelly activated the current crop on July 8.
NASA has conducted a number of experiments on plants, and has grown several other types of food. Past experiments have included growing peas, radishes and other types of lettuce. But until now, none of the plants grown in space have been eaten there.
According to NASA’s Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities at Kennedy, the experiment could have implications for growing food in controlled environments back on Earth. By studying crops in a gravity-free environment could lead to improvements in hydroponic and LED growing systems, like the ones used in urban vertical farms.
So, how did it taste? “That’s awesome,” exclaimed Lindgren after taking his first bite. His companions agreed.