Remember getting all excited about eating astronaut food as a kid? Then taking one bite of the vacuum packed, freeze-dried Neopolitan "ice cream" and immediately rethinking your dreams of going to the moon? Yeah, we've been there too. And while the actual food the astronauts aboard the ISS live on is a bit more substantial than the paste that dissuaded you from that space life, they definitely don't have access to anything fresh.
Until now. In an effort to supplement current astronauts' diets with fresh produce, and in anticipation of deeper space jaunts (like a trip to Mars), NASA's Veg-01 plant experiment has just yielded its first edible crop, opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for astronauts' dinners.
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NASA's Expedition 44 crew members are harvesting their crop of "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce today (and tasting it for the first time!), marking the first time astronauts have access to fresh food grown in the microgravity environment of space. The lettuce will be cleaned with citric acid-based wipes before consumption, likely to clean off all the space bugs that found their way into the station. Half the harvest will be eaten while the other half will be preserved and sent back down to Earth for analysis.
The system, appropriately dubbed "Veggie," is the creation of Orbital Technologies Corp. and was tested extensively at Kennedy Space Center. It uses LED lights and hydroponic technology to grow produce in an environment without natural light or water, a process NASA studied extensively, possibly from that guy you know who's really "into gardening" and doesn't have a real job, but somehow has a really nice car that always smells like the Art teacher's supply closet.
This is actually the second harvest from space—the first was sent back to Earth to make sure it wasn't filled with any space contamination. Hopefully, with more studies based off this crop, they'll figure out how to grow even more varied crops so the astronauts aren't just stuck eating lettuce.
Brett Williams is an editorial assistant at Supercompressor. He's still upset about that astronaut food let down.