Russian astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) confirm that vegetables grown there are officially safe to eat. Who wants space pirozhkis!?
Edible crops successfully grown on the ISS include peas, wheat, and Japanese leafy greens. The attempts to grow edible vegetables in space is based on the hope that astronauts could someday spend longer stretches on the ISS by producing some their own food. I suspect this effort is also encouraged by the inarguable grossness of that Space Ice Cream you get at museum gift shops.
In addition to the nutritional benefits of fresh food, scientists also hope that the process of growing and tending to the plants will create an important point of psychological stimulation for the astronauts. “Caring for a plant every day provides vital psychological relief, giving astronauts a small remembrance of Earth,” NASA scientist Howard Levine told Modern Farmer. If the mini-farming doesn’t establish a remembrance of Earth, looking out the window and seeing the entire planet should still work.
Japanese leafy greens growing in a “root module”. (NASA)
All of the veggies on the ISS are grown in a greenhouse named “Lada”, after the Russian Goddess of spring and space stations (kidding, just the first one). Throughout Lada’s interior are root modules which can support multiple generations of plants until their nutrients eventually run out. The used modules are sent back to earth to see if any microbes have developed in them. Earth-side scientists also run tests on samples of the space plants themselves, scanning the surfaces of the plants to check for contaminants that may have originated on the space station. This particular test could provide definitive proof that Larry sneezed on the space peppers regardless of what he might tell you. Larry…
What are the foreseeable limits to space station horticulture? Are there some vegetables that will never be practical to grow in space? Will the natural human appetite for meat lead to attempts at interstellar cattle ranching? Speculate below.