Astronauts for the first time nibbled a small crop of space-grown lettuce today in a look toward the future when crews head to deep space destinations like Mars with seeds ready to grow along the way. The red lettuce eaten Monday – accompanied by a dash of vinaigrette dressing – was grown in a specialized canister aboard the International Space Station during recent weeks and had sprouted from seeds that were glued into place on Earth. Astronauts placed the seeds and their pouches in a system that provided the water and light needed to make the plants grow. Half of the landmark crop was eaten while the other half will be returned to researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for closer study.
Scientists are deep into the next phases of the plant-growth experiments with platters of cabbage, tomatoes, peppers and radishes anticipated on upcoming flights. The research reflects the value of studies aboard the station ahead of our Journey to Mars in which crews will count on vegetables grown in space for a small amount of nutrients and added touch of home during missions that could last two years. The experimentation could also be boosted by the addition of a crew member on the station – something that would be allowed with the advent of commercial crew spacecraft now in development with NASA, Boeing and SpaceX.