Future Lettuce: Planting the Seeds for Veg-03

Gioia Massa glue seeds in place in a lab at Kennedy. Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

A small team of researchers glued the seeds into place Thursday on Earth so astronauts may grow them into lettuce and cabbage plants in space later this year. Working at a lab at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the scientists spent the week packing sterile soil and specialized fertilizer into Teflon and Kevlar envelopes they call pillows before placing the seeds carefully inside. The seeds are not planted, but rather glued into their optimal position using a common food ingredient known as guar gum. They are positioned so roots can quickly find their water supply and the above-ground portion of the lettuce can sprout as efficiently as possible. The pouches will be enclosed in a transport bag for flight to the International Space Station then moved to a special container that includes lights, a camera and other essentials when the experiment beings in orbit. Astronauts on the orbiting laboratory will water the seeds daily while researchers on the ground do the same thing to provide a control group.

The seeds, placed inside 18 plant pillows, will be carried into space on the CRS-7 mission due to launch next week on a SpaceX Dragon/Falcon 9. The experiment will be the latest version of the Veggie research that began last year with a lettuce crop grown on the orbiting laboratory.  The ultimate goal is a system that will reliably grow plants for astronauts as they traverse deep space and make a journey to Mars. The plants would be a supplement to their food and would provide unique nutritional value to astronauts.