Crucial Development for Future NASA Missions: Lettuce Grown in Space Is Nutritious and Tasty

The NASA program is called the Vegetable Production System experiment, or Veggie in short.
Fabienne Lang
Space lettuceNASA

Imagine going months on end without tasting fresh, tasty, and nutritious lettuce. For some more vegetable averse people that may sound ideal, however, for the majority of others it would be pretty tough.

NASA stated the good news that they have successfully managed to grow tasty and healthy romaine lettuce aboard the International Space Station (ISS). 

Now, astronauts who will partake in NASA's upcoming long term spaceflight missions to the Moon and Mars will be able to munch on fresh, Space-grown lettuce. 


The Veggie experiment

Between 2014 and 2016, NASA was growing lettuce on board the ISS to try and see if it was possible for the green leafy vegetable to grow properly and safely in Space. Researchers have proudly stated that this has been possible and that it will pave the way for other vegetables to be grown in Space during NASA's longer missions. 

Astronauts grew the lettuce as part of the Vegetable Production System experiment, more commonly known as Veggie.

"[Astronauts] posted photos of lobster salad lettuce wraps that they made and we heard that they ate the lettuce on cheeseburgers and tacos they made out of items available," NASA's Christina Khodadad and Gioia Massa, from the Kennedy Space Center, told Newsweek.

Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science today.

Astronauts' delight and health

The news will no doubt be welcomed with open arms by astronauts the world over. Given most astronauts eat processed or pre-packaged meals during their stint on the ISS, having some fresh produce will be a nice change. 

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Crucial Development for Future NASA Missions: Lettuce Grown in Space Is Nutritious and Tasty
Romaine lettuce from Space, Source: NASA

A lot of the packaged food loses its nutritional value over time in Space, so it has been one of NASA's prime focuses to find products that can be grown on the ISS so as to provide astronauts with proper nutrition, as well as keeping their morale high.

As Khodadad and Massa said "This [space-grown lettuce] will provide additional vitamins and other nutrients, flavors, textures, and variety to the packaged diet. Growing plants may also help with menu fatigue and provide psychological benefits when astronauts are far from home. In the long term, if we ever want to have space colonization, growth of crops will be crucial for establishing any level of sustainability and self-sufficiency."

Crucial Development for Future NASA Missions: Lettuce Grown in Space Is Nutritious and Tasty
The seeds of the lettuce are kept safe in "pillows" on the ISS, Source: NASA

Analysis of the lettuce

Upon analyzing the lettuce closely, scientists discovered it was comparable to crops grown on Earth, with a similar nutritional value, as well as its microbial communities. Moreover, they were pleasantly surprised to see that none of the bacteria typically found on Earth-grown crops could be found on the Space-grown ones. 

It was tricky to find the right balance in which to grow lettuce in Space, as "In microgravity, you have no natural convection, and water and air do not mix well," explained Khodadad and Massa. "Plant roots need both water and oxygen, and getting the correct levels is very tricky. Doing this in a sustainable, reusable approach using low power, mass, volume, and crew labor is even harder."

However, the team managed it and is looking forward to seeing what else can be grown in Space.

Crucial Development for Future NASA Missions: Lettuce Grown in Space Is Nutritious and Tasty
Astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren aboard the ISS with their lettuce leaves, Source: NASA
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