Eating fresh fruits and vegetables have its own benefits on Earth but from where to get at an altitude of 400 Kms at the International Space Station (ISS)? NASA has been experimenting with a vegetable production system on the ISS where it has supplemented the diets of astronauts with vegetables grown in the space. But now, one of the biggest airtight plasticware manufacturers, Tupperware has lent its expertise over keeping the food fresh. In fact, the modules developed by Tupperware to support the growth of plants and vegetables will be sent over to the ISS this Monday on April 2 when Cargo Resupply Ship (CRS-14) will be sent to space.
NASA astronauts are learning to grow vegetables in space. Fresh vegetables such as blueberries, red lettuce, and tomatoes are an incredible source of antioxidant known to elevate one’s mood and also protect the astronauts against harmful UV radiation. With the help of Vegetable Production System or Veggie, the astronauts have successfully grown some vegetables as a part of the experiment but the keeping the plants watered is a massive hurdle in the process.
First of all, astronauts use syringes to push water into each plant pillow which is then kept in microgravity. The results – some plants fared better than others while some received inadequate water and oxygen, etc.
The solution – PONDS or Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System for which, the prototype was developed by research Howard Levine. Then, PONDS was given to Techshot, a spaceflight company to certify its working which in turn, handed it over to Tupperware, one of the largest airtight plasticware manufacturer. Thus, Tupperware is now working with NASA to develop modules of PONDS that will help astronauts grow vegetables in space.
Tupperware has developed PONDS that can reduce the adverse effect of microgravity on water distribution and increase oxygen circulation across the module. The system will use absorbent mats that will help in sustaining surface tension and then, the capillary action will suck the water to the seeds and roots of the plants through a reservoir system. Next process is to distribute water evenly across the plant cylinders that will help in maintaining consistency in seed germination.
Tupperware will send seven PONDS modules with an adapter plate in the upcoming CRS-14 mission that will be liftoff by SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The adapter plate will facilitate the installation of modules in the existing Veggie System. Once deployed on the ISS, astronauts will start growing red romaine lettuce for a period of one month. One of the modules is a clear see through a module that will be used for videography and testing the hydrodynamics of the reservoir while another two will have a clear window that will enable astronauts to observe the root growth.
Once this experiment is done, six more PONDS modules are destined to be sent to the ISS aboard Orbital ATK CRS mission carrying Mizuna mustard seeds later this year. Similar to the red romaine lettuce, astronauts will utilize the new modules to grow mustard. Finally, the results obtained from PONDS modules and plant pillow that were earlier employed will be compared and based on it, further experiments will be done.