Call it “one small salad for man; one giant leaf for mankind.”
Last week, we covered how NASA has been growing lettuce in space. In that article, none other than yours truly wrote, “Based on how small this year’s crop is looking, I wouldn’t start pining for a space-grown salad anytime soon.” Well, I can admit when I am wrong: Today, astronauts are set to eat the fruits (actually veggies) of their space-farming labor, chowing down on red romaine lettuce they grew on the International Space Station.
This will be the first time lettuce grown in space will be eaten in space, but it’s not the ISS’s first crop. According to NASA, last year, astronauts grew romaine for 33 days before harvesting the lettuce and sending it back to Earth for testing. NASA gave those greens the thumbs-up, so now, after 33 days of new growth, members of the ISS’s team will have some fresh-grown space romaine for the first time in human history. “The astronauts will clean the leafy greens with citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes before consuming them,” NASA said in a statement. From there, “They will eat half of the space bounty, setting aside the other half to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis.” So it’ll be just like any normal home-cooked meal.
Also interesting is that these “greens” aren’t really that green. NASA has dubbed the plant “Outredgeous” red romaine because the lettuce is really purple and pinkish in hue owing to the fact that it was grown under red and blue LED lights. Some green lights were added as well, but only to add enough green color to the romaine to make it “look like edible food rather than weird purple plants.”
NASA hopes that these experiments could be the first steps toward more ambitious projects in the future. “The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits. I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario,” said NASA’s Dr. Gioia Massa.