If you thought your grandma's garden had the best vegetables, maybe you need to check out the leafy greens NASA is growing in space. That's right; they're growing vegetables on Mars. But how are they doing it?
NASA astronauts are trained to eat dehydrated food, but for the first time on the menu, astronauts are eating freshly grown food in space. The expedition has a 44-crew member team living in the International Space Station, undergoing NASA's plant experiment, Veg-01. This experiment is testing and studying the in-orbit performance of a plant growth facility.
This started back in 2015 when millions of seeds were sent on a rocket to the International Space Station. Six months later, the seeds were brought back to earth, where 600,000 children throughout the UK joined the experiment to grow and observe the development of the seed.
What they found was very interesting. Dr. Jake Chandler, of the Royal Holloway's department of biological sciences in London and lead scientist of the paper, stated, " "Transporting high-quality seeds to space and beyond will be crucial for growing plants that support human exploration of space, Mars and other worlds. Our study found that a six-month journey to space reduced the vigor of rocket seeds compared to those that stayed on Earth, indicating that spaceflight accelerated the aging process."
This discovery is huge, as it leads the way for the future and potential human habitation of Mars. Though there are challenges that come with this goal. The seeds need to be protected from space's harmful radiation and the vibrations occurring on the spacecraft. But these are all obstacles that need to be overcome. However, it doesn't exclude the fact that growing crops in space is a possibility.
If NASA can find a way to protect the seeds from radiation and vibrations, then humans are one step closer to growing crops on Mars. Dr. Chandler went on to say, "When humans travel to Mars, they will need to find ways to feed themselves, and this research helps us understand some of the biologies of seed storage and germination which will be vital for future space missions.
As for now, the Veg-01 experiment is the only one testing fresh foods in space. Alexandra Whitmire, a scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, states, "The Veggie experiment is currently the only experiment we are supporting which involves evaluating the effects of plant life on humans in space." Even though it's the only experiment taking place, it's showing amazing potential. As for now, though it's still in the beginning stages, NASA has high hope.
Dr. Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for Veggie at Kennedy, said, "We hope to increase the amount and type of crop in the future, and this will allow us to learn more about growing plants in microgravity. We have upcoming experiments that will look at the impacts of light quality on crop yield, nutrition, and flavor, both on Earth and in space."
It's looking bright for NASA scientists, and if they're eating fresh salad from space, there's no reason why they won't be able to achieve that on a larger scale.