Astronauts onboard the International Space Station will for the first time eat food that was grown on the orbiting laboratory after harvesting a crop of ‘Outredgeous’ red romaine lettuce.
“Expedition 44 crew members, including NASA’s one-year astronaut Scott Kelly, are ready to sample the fruits of their labour after harvesting a crop of ‘Outredgeous’ red romaine lettuce Monday, August 10, from the Veggie plant growth system on the nation’s orbiting laboratory,” the U.S. space agency said.
The astronauts will clean the leafy vegetables with citric acid-based, food safe sanitising wipes before consuming them.
They will eat half of the space bounty on Monday, setting aside the other half to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis. NASA’s plant experiment, called Veg-01, is being used to study the in-orbit function and performance of the plant growth facility, and its rooting “pillows,” which contain the seeds.
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. It also could be used by astronauts for recreational gardening activities during deep space missions.
The first pillows were activated, watered and cared for by Expedition 39 flight engineer Steve Swanson in May 2014. After 33 days of growth, the plants were harvested and returned to Earth in October 2014. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the plants underwent food safety analysis.
The second Veg-01 plant pillows were activated by Kelly on July 8 and grew again for 33 days before being harvested. The seeds had been on the station for 15 months before being activated. The Veggie system was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin, and tested at Kennedy before flight.
Veggie, along with two sets of pillows containing the romaine seeds and one set of zinnias, was delivered to the station on the third cargo resupply mission by SpaceX in April 2014.
The collapsible and expandable Veggie unit features a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation.
After the first crop of lettuce was returned from the space station, Dr Gioia Massa, the NASA payload scientist for Veggie at Kennedy, began working with a team of flight doctors and NASA safety representatives to get approval for the crew to eat the produce.
“Microbiological food safety analysis looks very good on the first Veg-01 crop of romaine lettuce,” Massa said.