The harvest time at the International Space Station has made big news after NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough cut the “Outredgeous” Red Romaine lettuce leaves that he nurtured aboard for an mid-afternoon snack.
The fruit of labor also signaled the success of “cut-and-come-again” gardening technique of NASA aimed at growing on-orbit crops to boost astronaut diets with nutritious and fresh food.
The Veggie project started on Oct. 25 for the first time in space, with Kimbrough grooming six lettuce plants that grew simultaneously. He happily played the part-time role of an on-orbit gardener with profuse tips coming from experts at the ground station in Kennedy Space Center.
Highlighting the hand holding to the horticulture plan in space, Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour noted the first week of life had “small seedlings getting too much water.”
Gardening In Space
But that was resolved after Kimbrough was advised to use a fan to dry up the moisture.
The harvesting technique of cut-and-come-again insists on growing food for dietary use and science applications.
The plant technique makes sure the core is left intact to produce more leaves in subsequent harvests.
“Testing this method on-orbit, after using it on the ground, is very exciting for us,” said Dufour.
Repetitive harvest can provide more food, Dufour said, and added the first harvest was solely for the crew’s consumption. Four more harvests are coming up. The final harvest will be in New Year.
According to space enthusiasts, the experiment is yet another manifestation of NASA’s ability to apply science across disciplines, including space biology in growing crops to ensure astronauts remain healthy for space exploration.
It is hoped that the agrarian instincts of the astronauts will be honed more as scientists plan longer travel of astronauts. One way to feed astronauts is by growing their own food. The success in growing lettuce in the outer space will be a harbinger for more such experiments.
Astronauts’ Food Bar
Meanwhile, the proposal of NASA food scientists for a new “food bar” as breakfast meal on missions to deep space destinations such as Mars or the moon has evoked great curiosity.
This was part of the plan to go frugal in food habits in deep space missions unlike the vast options of food available for the crew on the ISS.
The tasty bars — banana nut, ginger vanilla, orange cranberry and barbeque nut — are envisaged as meal replacements for astronauts going to Mars and the moon.
“We’ve taken a look at how to get some mass savings by reducing how we’re packaging and stowing what the crew would eat for breakfast for early Orion flights with crew,” reasoned Jessica Vos, deputy health and medical technical authority for Orion, justifying the food bar plan.
The food bar was being mulled for the space agency’s Orion capsule that will take people to Mars.
The innovative food bar was NASA’s idea to save on weight to ensure that spacecraft does not become too heavy and consume more propellant.
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