Farm-to-table has been all the rage for years now, but is the next frontier in the movement going to take place in space? If NASA has anything to do about it, the starry abyss may very well be the new rooftop garden—well, the spacecrafts orbiting Earth may be, anyway.
Space lettuce sounds like something you’d hear in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, but experts at NASA have recently been tinkering with engineering produce like lettuce that can be grown in space stations careening through outer space to give astronauts aboard the crafts the opportunity to treat themselves to something that hasn’t been freeze-dried beyond recognition.
NASA’s Veg-01 project aims to test different cultivation methods in the space environment in an effort to develop sustainable, long-term food solutions for astronauts. If astronauts have more access to fresh foods on their missions, this could allow them to remain in space for much longer trips, meaning there is the possibility that seemingly impossible manned missions to other planets could at once point come to fruition.
The science behind this isn’t new, but it required the seeds to be encapsulated in “pillows” to ensure they could germinate and grow in the microgravity environment. After approximately 33 days, the red lettuce was ready to be picked. Once picked, the crew in the International Space Station cleaned the yield with citrus-based santizing wipes before dressing them simply with olive oil and balsamic. Even in space, simple ingredients sometimes deliver the best flavor. The remaining lettuce will be sent back to Earth for further analysis back at NASA.
While this is the first time NASA has produced a harvest and allowed the produce to be consumed by the crew onboard, Russia actually tended to a “space garden” about 10 years ago.
In the future, NASA is hopeful that this successful lettuce crop will allow for more experimentation with a plethora of different fruits and vegetables. Not only will the fresh food keep the astronauts healthier, it can also have an unexpected psychological benefit by changing up the scenery with a lovely garden that can help them see the passage of time via ripening fruits and veggies.
There’s no talk of space-grown produce hitting the farmer’s market anytime soon, but is it just us or does arugula’s alternate name, rocket, seem very appropriate now?