Lettuce Was the First Plant to be Grown & Eaten in Space – Food Facts

Lettuce was the First Plant to be Grown & Eaten in Space - Food Facts

In 2015, an exciting milestone was achieved aboard the International Space Station (ISS) when a batch of red romaine lettuce marked the first plant-based food grown and consumed in space.

These lettuce leaves were cultivated within NASA’s experimental plant growth system known as Veg-01, an environment where plants thrive using seed “pillows” and primarily red and blue LED lights under microgravity conditions.

PublishSeptember 15 3:11 pm

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A year prior, in 2014, an astronaut from NASA Expedition 39 initiated the growth of plants from Veg-01, eventually sending them back to Earth for food safety analysis.

However, during Expedition 44, crew members, including astronaut Scott Kelly, had the privilege of enjoying the harvest.

Activating the Seed

Scott Kelly activated the seed pillows on July 8 and meticulously cared for the plants for 33 days before the eagerly anticipated harvest.

While NASA has previously explored controlled-environment agriculture for plant growth in space (even considering habitation for moon-based plant growth), this experiment held a unique purpose: evaluating the impact of plant life on human well-being in space.

The ISS menu already includes some fresh foods, but they are shipped from Earth and must be consumed quickly.

Growing sustainable plants in space carries significant potential for extended space exploration by providing better nutrition and enhancing psychological well-being.

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Nutritious Meals for Astronauts

Fresh vegetables are rich in essential vitamins and nutrients, and caring for greenery in space can contribute to astronauts’ mental health, a crucial consideration for longer space missions.

This concept is at the heart of NASA’s Journey to Mars project, which aims to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Long Distance Missions to Mars

NASA’s Veg-01 plant experiment serves a dual purpose: not only does it study crop production abilities in orbit, but it also opens the door for astronauts to cultivate their own food during long-distance missions, such as those to Mars.

Growing food in the challenging low-gravity, low-sunlight, and low-water space conditions requires innovation. Astronauts grow plants in rooting “pillows” containing seeds within units equipped with flat panels emitting red, blue, and green LED lights, giving the plants their distinct purple hue.

As we venture further into space, the importance of growing plants for food, atmosphere recycling, and psychological benefits becomes increasingly apparent. NASA’s vision includes growing food on future spacecraft and other planets and supplementing astronauts’ diets with fresh, nutritious produce. This not only addresses nutritional needs but also supports sustainable deep-space exploration.

Moreover, the LED lighting technology used in space plant growth experiments may find applications on Earth, particularly in urban plant factories and other scenarios where efficient, water-conserving plant cultivation is necessary.

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