Today, for the first time ever, astronauts aboard the International Space Station are going to eat vegetables that they grew in space in an area fittingly called Veggie.
The vegetables are grown out of little pillow-like packets in a system that was designed and tested by Madison, Wisc.-based Orbital Technologies Corp. The plants grow under red, blue and green LED light in an open-air environment (the veggies had to be tested before consumption to ensure there were no odd particles in the space air).
First on the space-vegetable menu is red romaine lettuce. Astronauts will eat half of the lettuce and bring the other half of the lettuce back to earth for further study, according to a statement from NASA about the space gardening. The crew is also growing flowers to see how they do in zero gravity, which could play a role in studying pollination of other items, including fruit.
Maintaining a garden in space will also keep astronauts happy. One of the less glamorous aspects of traveling in space is that you spend countless hours cramped up in a tiny space. "Besides having the ability to grow and eat fresh food in space, there also may be a psychological benefit. The crew does get some fresh fruits or vegetables, such as carrots or apples, when a supply ship arrives at the space station. But the quantity is limited and must be consumed quickly," says Dr. Gioia Massa, the NASA scientist working on the vegetable project at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.