Astronauts celebrated a new milestone today in consuming one half of the first-ever vegetable crop that was grown on the International Space Station (ISS). Call it one small chomp for man, one giant leap for red romaine lettuce.
Scott Kelly, Kimiya Yui, and Kjell Lindgrenare dressed the space-grown red lettuce and sampled it:
Per the astronauts, space lettuce tastes kind of like Arugula.
The crop of "Outredgeous" (NASA's word) lettuce is part of a number of ongoing science experiments on the station, designed to help advance science on Earth and pave the way for longer, tougher space missions—like a manned journey to Mars. The Vegetable Production System, or Veggie, experiment, is described by NASA as a "plant growth unit" that supplies the LED lighting and nutrients needed to grow greens in space.
NASA is interested in growing lettuce, and other vegetables, in space as a source of food for astronauts, especially on eventual longer missions. And whole Martian soil may very well be able to support plant life, but if it can't, a standalone garden like Veggie could offer a good alternative.
But the mission is also a way to test the effects of gardening on astronauts' mental health. Astronauts often mention fresh food as one of the things they miss most about Earth. Currently, the ISS gets regular shipments of fresh fruit and vegetables, but that won't happen on a mission to Mars.
In a statement, NASA's Human Research Program's Behavioral Health and Performance Research scientist Alexandra Whitmire explainedt:
Future spaceflight missions could involve four to six crew members living in a confined space for an extended period of time, with limited communication… We recognize it will be important to provide training that will be effective and equip the crew with adequate countermeasures during their mission.
NASA also notes that there we could also see some benefits here on Earth, in areas that aren't naturally conducive to growing plants.
The remaining lettuce will come back to Earth for testing.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.