Missing tomatoes ketchup with ISS crew after almost a year lost in space

Sadly not saucy enough in this state for return trip to Earth

There is good news and bad news regarding the two tomatoes lost aboard the International Space Station (ISS) last year. The good news is that they've been found. The bad news is that they look less than appetizing.

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio lost track of the fruits after harvesting them from the eXposted Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS, because NASA loves a tortured backronym even more than we at El Reg), and subsequent crew members cruelly suggested the astronaut ate them.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are precious commodities on the ISS so the suspicion is not entirely unfounded. However, a professional astronaut would never dream of such a thing.

Rubio spent 371 days aboard the ISS and conducted further experiments, including the VEG-05 study, which aims to develop a way of maintaining a supply of fresh food in space. Taste acceptability by the crew is one of the factors being considered.

It was not immediately clear where Rubio's lost XROOTS wound up aboard the complex when the expedition 70 crew members found them.

Two discolored tomatoes sealed in a plastic bag found on the ISS

Lost and found XROOTS tomatoes (Credit: NASA)

Most loose bits and pieces tend to follow the air currents, but we imagine these were stuffed into a container and forgotten. Both tomatoes look somewhat squashed and discolored, although there is no sign of any rot or fungus. Then again, we're not sure we'd want to open the plastic bag after nearly 12 months lost in space.

Dealing with food in space has been an issue since the dawn of human spaceflight, and many astronauts have sought to augment their rations with something a little tastier. John Young memorably smuggled a corned beef sandwich onto Gemini III before receiving a slap on the wrist for his efforts. In his book Forever Young, he notes: "To my knowledge, no corned beef sandwich ever flew into space again."

Other astronauts have written of the joy of receiving fresh fruit aboard a cargo freighter.

NASA is more serious about growing fresh food in space, especially as it considers longer missions. As well as the nutritious benefits, astronauts have reported psychological upsides to time spent gardening, essential when one is stuck in a metal cylinder for months – or possibly years – at a time.

Sadly, the rogue tomatoes will not be making a triumphant return to Earth for analysis. According to NASA, "they were discarded." ®

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