NASA said it has sent a lettuce plant to the International Space Station (ISS) for astronauts to grow it on board to study whether the deployable chamber called the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) is capable of producing salad-type crops to provide ISS crew with a palatable, nutritious, and safe source of fresh food.
The Veggie utilises the cabin temperature control system for its requirement of carbon dioxide, said scientists. “If you can get the environmental conditions correct, there’s no reason why plants won’t grow pretty well in space,” Dr Gioia Massa, Nasa payload scientist for Veggie at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, said.
The plant was sent as part of Nasa’s Veg-01 experiment to study the in-orbit growth and development of lettuce seedlings in the spaceflight environment.
“Veggie will provide a new resource for U.S. astronauts and researchers as we begin to develop the capabilities of growing fresh produce and other large plants on the space station,” Massa said in a statement.
The experiment will also study the effect of spaceflight environment on the microorganisms that grow on lettuce plants. Nasa also wants to learn more about the food safety of crops grown in microgravity.
“Determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test,” Massa added.
The experiment aboard ISS was mooted after a successful experiment of a crop of lettuce and radishes in the prototype test unit at Kennedy’s Space Life Sciences Laboratory.
“Seedlings were placed in the Veggie root-mat pillows, and their growth was monitored for health, size, amount of water used, and the microorganisms that grew on them,” she said.