By Chris Ciaccia
Published July 29, 2019
Even your snooty neighbor will be jealous of this fruit and vegetable garden.
NASA is looking to grow a hybrid version of a New Mexico chile plant in space on the International Space Station as part of an experiment, starting in March 2020.
A NASA group testing how to produce food beyond the Earth's atmosphere and the chile plant was created with input from Jacob Torres — an Española, N.M. native and NASA researcher.
The point of sending the chiles into space, according to Torres, is to demonstrate how NASA's Advanced Plant Habitat - which recreates environmental needs for plant growth like CO2, humidity and lighting - works not only for leafy greens, but for fruiting crops, as well.
"Understanding how to grow plants to supplement the astronaut's diet would be essential to our mission to going to Mars," Torres told the Associated Press. "So that kind of fuels our research that we're doing now."
Although they are often in the vegetable section in the supermarket, peppers are actually considered fruits by botanists, which would make the New Mexico chile plant the first fruit ever grown in space by NASA.
Previously, astronauts have grown greens and a zinnia bloomed in space in 2016.
In an interview with the Rio Grande Sun, NASA Plant Physiologist Ray Wheeler said the space agency was looking for a specific type of plant that could work with the tight parameters of the ISS.
“We were also looking for varieties that don’t grow too tall, and yet are very productive in the controlled environments that we would be using in space,” Wheeler told the news outlet.
The "Española Improved" chile plant is a cross between a northern New Mexico seed and the popular Sandia seed from the Hatch Valley.
Torres added that the chiles could boost the astronaut's morale, giving them something to eat that's different than the pre-packaged meals astronauts are used to eating.
"Just by having something fresh to eat, a type of crop you grew yourself, being away from home for a long time, that picks up your morale, it brings positivity and adds to the mission that you're doing," he told the AP. "That's one important aspect of the research that we're doing."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.