Goodbye Astronaut Ice Cream: NASA Is Growing Salad in SpaceS

Having a nibble of astronaut ice cream is a rite of passage for field-tripping American youths, but the reality of subsisting solely on specialty dehydrated vittles with long shelf lives doesn’t have the same kind of novelty in space. NASA has already been developing tactics to fight “menu fatigue," and later this year will mark the first time that fresh food will actually be grown way out in orbit.

Jesse Hirsch over at Modern Farmer takes a closer look at the organization’s Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE), which this December will see six heads of lettuce in “Kevlar pillow packs” brought to life in 28 days under neon-pink LED lights on the ISS. A half-dozen bunches of leafy greens is obviously not enough to satiate the crew long-term, but a successful crop would be a major development in the quest to figure out how to sustain human life beyond our planet. The benefits are psychological as well as physical; the act of gardening offers a welcome bit of “horticultural therapy” that could prove hugely beneficial to the general sense of well-being in zero-g.

Unfortunately, this initial harvest won’t be for eating on board; it will be frozen, stored, and tested for cosmic microbes back on earth. Hopefully in the interim they’re working on a really good intergalactic ranch dressing. [Modern Farmer]

Lead image: Stephen Allen