The thought of eating "astronaut food" brings to mind a kind of instant food that is far from "farm to table." However, recent experiments aboard the ISS are improving our understanding of how to bring the farm directly into space itself.
Astronauts just ran a Veg-PONDS 02 experiment on the International Space Station. The experiment used food that was cultivated in space. Potential cultivations could include tomatoes or other plants, NASA says.
On November 30th, Kate Rubins took about 6 packs of radishes from the lab and stored them in a refrigerated unit after gathering them up—freshly grown in space. The process opens new doors for microgravity food processing to enable future long-term moon and Mars missions. The radish sprouts will be sent back to Earth early next year on SpaceX's 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission, NASA announced.
Radishes, a well-known fresh vegetable, were chosen for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment because vegetables are well understood by scientists. Radishes are perfectly useful for in-orbit space research. They are edible, nutritious and similar to Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant that has been studied by NASA repeatedly.
A new method lets astronauts cultivate romaine lettuce seeds in 12 passive orbital nutrient delivery systems. The units are less expensive than the seed bags and can hold more water, NASA says. Six of the 12 PONDS units will be returned to Earth on a future SpaceX mission for further analysis. More nutrition will be required for space explorers on their way to Mars.
"There comes a point where you have longer and longer duration missions, and you reach a cost-benefit point where it makes sense to grow your own food," said chief scientist of NASA's Utilization and Life Sciences Office at the Kennedy Space Center Howard Levine in a statement.
The APH Chamber uses LED lights to improve plant growth, while an automated control system provides water to the plant. 180 sensors track plant growth and monitoring the temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels.
Astronauts will plant a further round of radish seeds in the APH second science carrier. The move will increase sample size for spatial radis to increase the precision of the experience.