NASA Soon to Harvest Space Lettuce
No, there will not be a feast or a hoedown to celebrate this year's harvest of NASA's space lettuce, but it will mark the first successful harvest of vegetables grown in a process that astronauts will one day use to grow their own food.
NASA recently tasked astronaut Steve Swanson at the International Space Station (ISS) to care for an unusual garden of romaine lettuce. This lettuce was reportedly shipped up to the ISS last April, and five of six individually grown lettuce plants have already sprouted. Swanson is scheduled to harvest three of them next week, according to a Vox report.
However, Swanson won't be able to taste the fruits of his labor just yet. The lettuce was grown as part of an ongoing NASA Vegetable Production System project - often simply called "Veggie" - that represents the final prototype design for how astronauts of the future will grow their food in space.
"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," said Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for Veggie, in a statement, explaining that the veggie system has been designed to one day feed a hungry ISS crew with a "home grown" garden.
However, "determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test," Massa adds.
According to NASA, these first fresh space-grown romaine samples will be frozen and sent back to Earth for analysis. If the analysis proves the lettuce is perfectly safe, astronauts might be allowed to munch on future Veggie system products.
The Veggie system itself is unusual for a garden, as there is no soil to speak of. Because of how water floats in space, vegetable seeds are packed into specially designed pillows to germinate. Swanson was tasked with injecting water into these pillows at specific times to ensure the plants grow healthily. A complex array of colored LED lights also help the plants grow, simulating sunlight.
Swanson in scheduled to harvest the first four lettuce samples in one week's time.