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Can Vegetables Grow in Space?

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Typically, talks of eating at the International Space Station spur on visions of vacuum packed food, space ice cream, and strange “liquids.” Life in zero-gravity, floating thousands of miles above the Earth doesn’t always receive the same comforts as found at home.

Though, this about to change.  Or, at least, a little bit.  A new project called VEGGIE (short for Vegetable Production System) is set to launch aboard Space X’s Dragon capsule next year during NASA’s third Commercial Resupply Services mission.

It will bring space farming to the ISS. It weighs about 15 pounds and requires only 115 watts to operate (less than half of what it takes to power a desktop computer and monitor).

Howard Levine, Ph.D. and chief scientist of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center International Space Station Research Office hopes that, “even though VEGGIE is not a highly complex plant growth apparatus, it will allow the crew to rapidly grow vegetables using a fairly simple nutrient and water delivery approach.”

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Crops tested in VEGGIE plant pillows include lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, Chinese cabbage and peas. Image credit: NASA

Meaning, that those aboard the ISS could soon be enjoying fresh vegetables, even when far removed from Earth’s biosphere.  Not only that, but there’s hope that VEGGIE will be able to produce faster-growing species of plants, specifically lettuce or radishes.

Those on board the ISS are not just excited for VEGGIE because of the prospect of fresh produce, but just the feeling of having nature around.  There’s anecdotal evidence that having plants around helps crew members to feel more connected to Earth.  There’s also currently a request for proposals from the research community asking for other ideas for experiments involving VEGGIE.

If VEGGIE is a success, it will open up the way for many future experiments aboard the space station.  Not only that, but a few crew members’ stomachs will probably thank the brains behind VEGGIE as well.

Photo Credit: NASA, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives
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