The Tip of the Iceberg: Astronauts Taste Lettuce Grown in Space for First Time

Michaela Whitton | ANTIMEDIA

On Monday, three American astronauts ate lettuce grown on board the International Space Station as part of a NASA experiment.

United Kingdom — The universal benchmark of greatness and well-worn idiom, “the best thing since sliced bread” may need to be replaced. Although “the greatest thing since space-grown lettuce” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it—and may not immediately improve the lives of us earthlings—it’s happened and it’s cool.

On Monday, three American astronauts ate lettuce grown on board the International Space Station as part of a NASA experiment. After harvesting the red romaine lettuce heads, crew members of Expedition 44 cleaned them with sanitizing wipes and tried  them raw before “dressing the leaves with a extra virgin olive oil and Italian balsamic vinegar,” according to a Guardian report.

“Tastes good. Kinda like arugula,” said astronaut Scott Kelly. Arugula is also known as rocket lettuce—the trendy foodstuff that us mortals here on earth can’t get away from.

Just over a year ago, the first fresh food production system (along with the Veg-01 experiment), were delivered to the space station on the SpaceX-3 mission from Cape Canaveral.  In May, flight engineers from Expedition 39, together with NASA astronauts, installed the plant growth system—nicknamed “Veggie”—in the Columbus laboratory, the science lab and research facility that’s part of the International Space Station.

According to NASA’s website, “A root mat and six plant ‘pillows,’ each containing ‘Outredgeous’ red romaine lettuce seeds, were inserted into the chamber. The pillows received about 100 millilitres of water each to initiate plant growth. The clear, pleated bellows surrounding Veggie were expanded and attached to the top of the unit. Inside each plant pillow is a growth media that includes controlled release fertilizer and a type of calcined clay used on baseball fields. This clay increases aeration and helps the growth of plants.”

Astronauts on the ISS usually have about six months’ worth of food at a given time, generally relying on packaged goods that are able to withstand the conditions of space. Crew members receive fresh fruits and supplies with every payload from Earth, but the produce must be consumed quickly. Spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz said that as missions venture further from Earth, the experiment will help NASA break free from the limits of resupply flights.

“The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits,” NASA scientist Giola Massa said.

To make the food look  familiar, NASA used green LEDs as well as more efficient red and blue ones to make the lettuce turn more green and less red. “We could more efficiently grow them without the green LEDs,” Schierholz said, “…but the green actually gives it psychological benefit of eating a food that looks familiar versus food that looks weird.”

The benefits of the experiment are multi-layered. Not only do the in-house gardens make the spacecraft relatively self-sustaining, but scientists claim that simply having plants around the space module makes the astronauts feel more at home and that gardening can be an activity to stave off the psychological stress of extended journeys. As the fresh foods keep the astronauts healthier and happier, independence from the need to save supplies means astronauts can gain more knowledge more efficiently as they explore space.


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Michaela Whitton joined Anti-Media as its first journalist abroad in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include human rights, conflict, the Middle East, Palestine, and Israel. Born and residing in the United Kingdom, she is also a photographer. Learn more about Whitton here!

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