It was, quite literally, a bite that was out of this world. And it tasted “awesome”, according to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
The very first outer space lettuce was grown in a small, microwave-sized box for more than a year, and exposed to LED lights. The crew members first used sanitary wipes to clean the lettuce before trying them raw, and then with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and Italian balsamic vinegar.
The astronauts said it tasted “fresh” and “kind of like arugula” – a great alternative to the usual packaged, freeze-dried space food.
The space-grown lettuce is part of an official NASA experiment called Veg-01, which was meant to study plant growth in a micro-gravity environment. The experiment also serves as a way for scientists to improve the current methods used in growing produce in orbit.
Preparing for Mars?
Creating a spacecraft that is sustainable is part of NASA’s mission to get the first humans on Mars. The ability to grow food in outer space is an integral part of the equation, as a journey to Mars requires long-duration spaceflight. As an aside, depending on the orbits of Earth and Mars, this can take anywhere from 150 to 300 days. Roughly every 2 years Earth and Mars reach their closest point called “opposition” when Mars is “only” 55 Million km away (34 Million miles).
The success of growing red romaine lettuce in space allows researchers and astronauts to look further into how they can grow other types of fresh produce and large plants on the space station.
Researchers also believe it can improve the health and happiness of astronauts in space. In addition to providing antioxidants that protect against radiation, fresh vegetables also serve as a great reminder of life back home. Simply having plants around the space station was enough to make astronauts feel more at home, and less out of touch with Earth.
Another great benefit that comes with a self-sustaining food supply is getting rid of costly resupply flights. Without the need to constantly replenish food, astronauts will be able to venture out into deeper territory.
Here is an HD video of the astronauts eating their space lettuce for the first time: