Astronauts longing for fresh lettuce in orbit will soon have the chance to grow it for themselves: NASA is sending a mini-farm into space.
When the private spaceflight company SpaceX launches its next Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station, the capsule will be carrying a small plant growth chamber, about the size of a microwave, to let astronauts grow “Outredgeous” lettuce in orbit.
The goal of the Veg-01 experiment, nicknamed “Veggie”, is to see how well plants grow in orbit. If these early tests go well and the food proves safe, scientists hope to expand the menu.
“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. “Determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test.” “They’ll grow the lettuce, freeze it and send it back to Earth. We need to look at what types of microorganisms are on the leaves so we can determine if they’re safe to eat in orbit.”
Space is at a premium on a spacecraft and also on the International Space Station, so the Veggie chamber is built to collapse for transportation and when it is in storage. When fully deployed, it’s about a 1.5-feet long, making it the biggest such plant chamber in space to date.
A version of the chamber has been tested on the ground, where lettuce and radishes were successfully grown at the Kennedy Space Center’s space life sciences laboratory. Veggie was developed by Madison, Wis.-based Orbital Technologies Corp.