Fresh food grown in space will, for the first time, be consumed by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA has announced the meal will take place on Monday, when red romaine lettuce grown aboard the ISS will be added to the menu.
The lettuce was produced under Operation Veggie, an effort that's seen a vegetable-growing pod hauled to the ISS. The pod uses LED lights to shine on “pillows” packed with lettuce seeds that are placed atop a root mat.
“Power is applied and water is added to the root mat to begin seed germination,” NASA says. “Water and growth height is maintained throughout the plant growth cycle until the vegetables are harvested and the growth cycle can be restarted.”
The leaves on Monday's menu aren't the first crop grown on the ISS. The station's original batch of lettuce was returned to Earth for analysis so it could be determined whether it is safe to consume comestibles grown in space. Mission boffins think the ISS' astronauts should be okay if they chow down on space salad but will still insist that “astronauts … clean the leafy greens with citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes before consuming them.”
It's not expected that the ISS will get anywhere need self-sufficiency as a result of this experiment, but the point of the effort is to explore how humans might augment food hauled from Earth on longer trips to spots like Mars. This experiment has also investigated how plants react to microgravity. It's also hoped that adding fresh food to astronauts' diets will help them to cope with radiation and may even lift their moods. ®