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Astronauts on the ISS Eat Space-Grown Salad for the First Time in History

Space-Grown Salad

Image credit: Shown is the Veggie system on the ISS. NASA.

If humans could successfully manage to go to Mars, or hopefully go further to the Solar System, it is vital for their survival that they should become self-sustainable and capable of growing their own food on these very long journeys. To realize such goal, at present an important step has been made toward that goal on the International Space Station (ISS).

For the first time in history, astronauts on the ISS are going to eat food that has been grown in orbit. The food is the red romaine lettuce produced by a plant growth system that is named as Veggie. Before eating, astronauts will clean the lettuce leaves with sanitizing wipes with content of citric acid. The crew will eat half the bounty on the ISS, and the other half would be taken back to Earth for further scientific analysis.

According to Gioia Massa, the NASA payload scientist for Veggie at the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC), if humans are intended to go farther and longer away from Earth, the need would be greater for them to be capable of growing plants for food, as well as psychological benefits and atmosphere recycling. In his opinion, the plant systems would be quite vital for any long-duration exploration missions.

By application of a method initially designed in the 1990s, the Veggie system uses colored LEDs which are helpful for the plants to grow. Red and blue lights were used for emitting the most light; however green LEDs were also used so as to allow the plants to grow with a more appetizing color instead of being purple. It would take thirty-three for this batch of lettuce to grow.

As Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at KSC said, it was basically necessary to have blue and red wavelengths to make good plant grow. Taking electrical power conversion into account, they would be possibly the most efficient. At the same time, the green LEDs would be much helpful in boosting the human visual perception of the plants, however they would not generate as much light as the reds and blues did.

In fact, this is the second batch of lettuce being grown on the ISS, because in May 2014, the first batch had been cultivated and taken back in a SpaceX Dragon capsule to Earth for analysis to see whether they were edible or not. After being confirmed to be safe for eating, the astronauts on Expedition 44 have grown this second batch. This would be regarded as one giant leaf now taken by mankind.