The astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have successfully cultivated a crop — red romaine lettuce that is free from diseased microbes making them safe to eat. This was achieved despite of being cultivated under lower gravity and higher radiation than on Earth. The fresh produce provides the astronauts with potassium and vitamins K, B1, and C. these nutrients are less abundant in the pre-packaged food packets that the astronauts get and degrade over long term storage.
More so, growing crops will be very useful on long distance space missions like the Artmeis-III mission that is scheduled to land on the lunar south pole by 2024, the ongoing SpaceX programme and NASA’s first manned mission to Mars that has been planned for the late 2020s. “The ability to grow food in a sustainable system that is safe for crew consumption will become critical as NASA moves toward longer missions. Salad-type, leafy greens can be grown and consumed fresh with few resources,” said Dr. Christina Khodadad, a researcher at the Kennedy Space Center.
Astronauts rely upon processed and pre-packaged food like fruits, nuts, chocolate, peanut butter, chicken, etc. these items are sterilized by heating, freeze drying or irradiation to make them last longer and it had been a challenge for NASA to figure out how to safely grow fresh crops onboard.
“The International Space Station is serving as a test-bed for future long-duration missions, and these types of crop growth tests are helping to expand the suite of candidates that can be effectively grown in microgravity,” said DrGioia Massa, project scientist at Kennedy Space Center.