Believe it or not, during the early days of space exploration, NASA scientists and astronauts were very reluctant to eat solid food in space. The fear was that without any gravity, a piece of food could float back up someone’s windpipe and turn into a choking hazard. That’s why they carried food in liquefied or powdered forms during the first missions into outer space.
But now that we know that there’s no harm in bringing solid food into space (just don’t let it float into the ventilation system!), astronauts bring all kinds of goodies into space with them: trail mix, carrots, even shrimp cocktails. And now the six astronauts currently living on the International Space Station (ISS) have become the first people to actually eat food that’s been grown in space!
This isn’t the first time that NASA astronauts have grown crops on the space station. For decades, NASA and other agencies have experimented with plants in space, but the results weren’t eaten—instead, they were sent back to Earth for examination. So this batch of fresh red romaine lettuce is the first crop that astronauts have both grown and eaten in space.
How were they able to achieve this crop in the vacuum of space, you ask? NASA partnered with several companies like Orbital Technologies (ORBITEC) and the National Space Biomedical Research Program (NSBRI) to create specially equipped LED lights for the ISS. These LEDs were used to help develop and grow plants, while others were designed to induce wakefulness or sleepiness among the crew members.
NASA’s push into the frontiers of space will undoubtedly continue to make advances in of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors. We’ve already seen NASA’s missions into deep space as rousing success stories and inspiring tech accomplishments and we can’t wait to see where they’ll blast off to next. As the agency eyes deep-space missions, like a trip to an asteroid or Mars, space farming becomes less of a novelty and more of a necessity.
Plants will, of course, be an integral part of any life-support system for extended missions, providing food and oxygen and processing waste. Each of these experiments promises to bring new innovations to agriculture here on Earth, too. Just think: it won’t be long before there will be a market for freshly grown space veggies to freshen up your dinner plate!
Photo credit: WIRED