The astronauts aboard the International Space Station have eaten veggies. They were grown in an artificial environment in space. This is the first time such an experiment has gotten carried out.
Fresh vegetables have been grown in the near zero gravity environment of space. This space produce will get sampled by the astronauts aboard the ISS. The members of Expedition 44 will engage in this novel experiment.
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It is a first in space-grown fresh produce. Among the crowd of space adventurers is Scott Kelly, who has been up there for a span of one year. The harvest includes red romaine lettuce.
The astronauts will be scouring the vegetables with citric acid sanitizing wipes. That is before they consume them as the first food grown in space. Half the harvest will get eaten in space.
The rest will get stored and frozen until it gets returned to earth for probing by scientists in labs. This experiment by NASA's called Veg-01. And it is a landmark in vegetation exploration.
The plant growth facilities are designed by NASA. The Veggie Technology will provide food for future generations of astronauts. When they are aboard the international space station, they can eat what is grown in space.
This method will especially come in handy on the future journey to Mars. NASA’s exploration of the far pavilions of our solar system is a dead cert. And it will need Veggie Technology in a fundamental way.
Besides food growth, the technology could get used on a recreational basis. The devices have pillows where the seeds of the plants get embedded. And they grow to become full-fledged plants in the end.
The experiment began in 2014. The first sample of the harvest got sent to earth for analysis. When it got declared safe to eat, a second batch was grown in outer space.
33 days was the time span taken by the harvest to grow. As for the seeds, they had been aboard the ISS for a year and three months. That is before they were planted in the pillows.
The Veggie Technology got perfected by ORBITEC. Besides the romaine lettuce, a bunch of zinnias got planted too. The Veggie Unit contains LED sources of red, blue and green light to induce plant growth.
"Blue and red wavelengths are the minimum needed to get good plant growth," Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at Kennedy, said.
"They are probably the most efficient in terms of electrical power conversion. The green LEDs help to enhance the human visual perception of the plants, but they don't put out as much light as the reds and blues."
Vegetables and fruits (such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce) provide fresh nutrients. They will be a key staple of all forays into space in the future.
"There is evidence that supports fresh foods, such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants. Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people's moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space," Wheeler said.
There is no need to eat packaged food in a form that emerges out of tubes. Astronauts can now grow the stuff they eat in the zero gravity of space.
"Microbiological food safety analysis looks very good on the first Veg-01 crop of romaine lettuce," Dr. Gioia Massa, the NASA payload scientist for Veggie at Kennedy, said.
"The Veggie experiment is currently the only experiment we are supporting which involves evaluating the effects of plant life on humans in space," Alexandra Whitmire, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said.
"Future spaceflight missions could involve four to six crew members living in a confined space for an extended period of time, with limited communication," Whitmire said.
"We recognize it will be important to provide training that will be effective and equip the crew with adequate countermeasures during their mission."
Massa agrees: "Besides having the ability to grow and eat fresh food in space, there also may be a psychological benefit. The crew does get some fresh fruits or vegetables, such as carrots or apples, when a supply ship arrives at the space station. But the quantity is limited and must be consumed quickly."
"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," Massa 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," Massa said. "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."
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