The US space agency NASA’s astronauts aboard the International Space Station started growing red romaine lettuce last month and now have successfully reaped the leaves for the first time in space. The crop was harvested as a part of gardening program named “cut-and-come-again.”
NASA is trying to grow flowers and vegetables in space and the last Veggie experiment was initiated on Oct. 25 where astronauts grew six lettuce plants. Space Gardner Shane Kimbrough enjoyed cultivating the crops. He recieved help from Veggie project engineers like Charles Spern from the Kennedy Space Center who monitored the crops and suggested Kimbrough for maintaining the quality of lettuce and they also assisted him during harvesting.
“During their first week of life, the small seedlings were getting too much water,” said Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour. “This put the plants’ growth a bit behind schedule, but they recovered nicely after we instructed Kimbrough to use a fan to dry up some of the moisture.”
Astronauts have grown lettuce under cut-and-come-again scheme where they partially cut the leaves of crop and leave the core of the plant along with some leaves so that it can grow again in next ten days for another harvest. This way, astronauts can get higher yield which will enable them to eat fresh vegetables for a longer duration while they are on ISS.
“Testing this method on-orbit, after using it on the ground, is very exciting for us,” said Dufour. “A repetitive harvest allows us to provide more food for both the crew and for science, so it’s a win-win. We are looking forward to hearing how Shane enjoys his first harvest!”
NASA revealed that the first harvest of lettuce is for consumption of astronauts aboard ISS and they will conduct four such harvests by end of the year. The yields from these harvests will be split between samples for science return and crew consumption.
This experiment also is an important demonstration of how NASA applies science across disciplines — in this case Space Biology to grow a healthy crop and Human Research to ensure astronauts remain healthy — to enable human space exploration. NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications division integrates and funds such research.
It is not the first time that astronauts have grown vegetables on ISS. Previosuly, renowned astronaut Scott Kelly had shared pic of the first flower ever zinnia flower grown on ISS that is consumable and can be used in salads. On January 8, newly grown buds turned into flowers that appeared similar to those grown on our motherland. However, there was some difference due to zero gravity in the Space which led to curled edges of the petals.