ISS040-E-009124 (10 June 2014) --- In the International Space Station?s Harmony node, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, Expedition 40 commander, harvests a crop of red romaine lettuce plants that were grown from seed inside the station?s Veggie facility, a low-cost plant growth chamber that uses a flat-panel light bank for plant growth and crew observation. For the Veg-01 experiment, researchers are testing and validating the Veggie hardware, and the plants will be returned to Earth to determine food safety.
Growing Food in Microgravity
As humans explore farther from Earth, the ability to grow food is a solution to several challenges of long-duration missions. Fresh produce provides nutritious meals over multiple years and reduces cargo requirements for the trip. Many techniques for growing plants have been explored on station to prepare for these missions. On August 10, 2015, astronauts sampled their first space-grown salad. Eight types of leafy greens have been grown in the Veggie facility for astronauts to eat, fine tuning the best techniques.
Why do this in space? New solutions for watering, lighting, and growing plants have to be tested to create a food crop in microgravity. The space station has served as a platform for performing these tests, and for verifying what conditions allow the plants to grow most effectively.
Why does it matter? The packaged diet used by crews in low-Earth orbit works well, but relies on frequent resupply missions. During a mission to Mars, the vitamins and quality of packaged food would degrade over time, and couldn’t easily be restocked. Supplementation with fresh crops provides necessary nutrients while giving astronauts more variety in their diet.