NASA is organizing the Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program that will send packs of seed material to the ISS.
When humans begin colonizing space there is one challenge we’ll be facing, how to get food to those colonies. The idea of farming in space is hardly a new one. Astronaut Don Pettit successfully grew a zucchini, broccoli, and sunflower on the ISS, but NASA is now researching how vegetables may be grown in space for consumption.
NASA is organizing the Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program that will send packs of a pellet-like seed material wrapped in Kevlar to the ISS. When planted under LED lights, this material will turn into lettuce. Once grown, the lettuce will be sent back to Earth for analysis to determine if it’s safe to eat. We wouldn’t want our astronauts coming down with space food poisoning, would we? And then once the food is deemed safe for consumption, the astronauts will get treated with a fresh meal.
NASA chose lettuce for the experiment because it’s generally ready to eat straight out of the soil. Other vegetableish things like potatoes are only good when cooked, and crops like wheat and rice take a longer time to grow. Lettuce is an ideal choice for this project to figure out what’s possible with space farming, but NASA hopes to eventually grow other vegetables like radishes, peas, and tomatoes.
Growing plants in space also has other, less tasty benefits. Gardening has long been known to have positive psychological impact on those who indulge in it. With astronauts being so far from home and confined to tight quarters, the plants they grow could provide therapeutic relief from the stresses they face. The astronauts may also benefit from the splash of color that plants provide, especially in an environment that consists of mostly whites and grays.
Because of the limited space on the ISS, growing a full-scale garden there isn’t feasible, but NASA hopes that this research could give new insight into how crops behave in space. If all goes well, a future fully of well-fed space colonization becomes that much more realistic.