When astronauts eventually embark on lengthy space journeys, they won’t have the option to simply Uber Eats a meal whenever they’re hungry. While they may have meals like peanut butter, chicken, beef, candy, brownies to satisfy their hunger needs, a more nutritious option will soon be added to the menu in the form of space-grown lettuce.
The idea of growing food in space has been around for quite some time now, with astronauts first experimenting with growing red romaine lettuce aboard the ISS back in 2015. The lettuce grew undisturbed for 33 to 56 days before a frozen sample was sent back to Earth for analysis, with the results recently published in Frontiers in Plant Science.
To the surprise of everyone, the space-grown lettuce had a similar composition to that of earth-grown lettuce, with some of the space-grown lettuce were richer in potassium, sodium, sulphur, phosphorus, and zinc. They did, however, contain higher levels of bacteria when compared to Earth-grown lettuce, which researchers believe is due to warmer, humid closed-air system aboard the ISS. More importantly, the Space-grown lettuce showed no signs of carrying dangerous bacteria like salmonella or E-coli.
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While speaking to Newsweek about their findings, NASA’s Christina Khodadad and Gioia Massa said “Growing plants may also help with menu fatigue and provide psychological benefits when astronauts are far from home. In the long term, if we ever want to have space colonization, growth of crops will be crucial for establishing any level of sustainability and self-sufficiency.”
Along with providing astronauts with some much needed fresh produce, growing plants could also play a vital role in prolonged space missions, “In addition to providing food, plants may also play a role in future Life Support Systems needed for long-duration missions. Plants generate oxygen as well as remove and fix carbon dioxide, which is critical in closed systems like the ISS or future moon/Mars facilities.”