Could space experiments help us have healthier food here on earth?

Fresh Veggies in Space

Go Veggie Team!  To infinity and beyond!

NASA has launched its own “Veggie Team.”  Their goal is to develop ways for astronauts to grow their own fresh greenhouse produce while staying at the International Space Station, and other future out of this world lettuce snip 2

Record breaking astronaut Scott Kelly who spent a year in space tweeted: “I missed the color green most during my year in space.  Great to see it again on earth!”scott kelley green in spaceIn the following video, NASA Commentator Brandi Dean talks with Dr. Gioia Massa, a Veggie project scientist, about the team’s space experiments, including a recent crop of zinnias.

The project is testing the viability of a system that would allow crew members on future space missions to grow some of their own food.

The team has already grown two successful crops of “Outredgeous” red lettuce on the International Space Station, and a crop of flowers during Expedition 46 that are a prerequisite to a planned future crop of tomatoes.

Outredeous red romaine lettuce on Space Station
Outredgeous romaine lettuce growing on the Space Station

The Veggie team is launching the red romaine lettuce and a small leafy Asian cabbage called Tokyo Bekana on the next SpaceX Dragon cargo ship targeted to launch in early April.  SpaceX’s purpose is commercial resupply.

Outredgeous lettuce growing here on earth
Outredgeous red romaine lettuce growing here on earth
tokyo bekana
Tokyo Bekana

Growing green for body, mind and soul

Besides the nutritional benefits of freshly harvested produce, Veggie Team’s Dr. Gioia Massa believes the psychological benefits of having something green and growing will help future space explorers.

Dr. Gioia Massa
Dr. Gioia Massa. Photo from her twitter page

The Veggie Team is continuing to experiment with growing zinnias under space conditions.  They chose flowers because they wanted to grow a longer crop than salad greens–the zinnias grew for ninety days.

More importantly, they wanted to start the process of learning how to grow fruiting crops like tomatoes in deep space.  Flowering crops are a greater challenge to grow, but are so important to a healthy diet.zinnias snip nasa

The zinnias posed some new difficulties for the Veggie Team scientists and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.  Flowering plants need good oxygen and water, and getting sufficient water to the zinnia roots under microgravity conditions.

They found that the zinnias grew slower on the International Space Station than they anticipated, so they absorbed less water.  The excess water caused fungal disease.  Scott Kelly increased the fans and decreased the water, and managed to save a few of their zinnias.  Just like gardening experiments at home!

Fungal growth on experimental zinnias
Fungal growth on experimental zinnias

Steve and I have grown tasty and easy growing Tokyo Bekana for years on our organic farm!  It’s a lot milder and more tender than many leafy greens.  We also grow Outredgeous lettuce.

tokyo bekana info

Before selecting Tokyo Bekana, the Veggie Team experimented with many varieties of leafy greens for future growing in deep space greenhouses.   After determining which varieties grew the best, the took it to the next level…the all important taste tests.

The taste tests of leafy greens were conducted at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.  Our own Tokyo Bekana won, hands down!

Could Space Station experiments help us eat healthier here on earth?

The Veggie Team is learning how to grow fresh, nutritious vegetables under difficult conditions, with minimal water, space, and light.

Sampling space grown Outredgeous lettuce. Nasa TV
Sampling space grown Outredgeous lettuce. Nasa TV

This research can help future scientists discover new and more efficient ways to grow fresh vegetables here on earth, in areas where that is now a challenge.

Imagine bringing lots of fresh produce to future generations who never could have had it before!

Click here to follow Dr. Gioia Massa on twitter.

Feature image from NASA’s “Space Station Live: The Zinnias of Space”



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