ISS astronauts to taste space-grown leafy greens today

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Expedition 44 crew members will be sampling red romaine lettuce grown on the ISS in microgravity for the first time ever today – a result of the years of work, which NASA has pegged as a step towards manned mission to Mars.

NASA said that the astronauts including Scott Kelly will first clean the lettuce with citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes and then consume them. Astronauts will be eating half of the produce, while the remaining half will be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis.

NASA’s plant experiment dubbed Veg-01 is the space agency’s means to studying the in-orbit function and performance of the plant growth facility and its rooting “pillows,” which contain the seeds.

This is not the first time that leafy greens have been grown in space. The first ever time the rooting pillows were activated, watered and cared for was during Expedition 39 by flight engineer Steve Swanson in May 2014.

The lettuce were grown for 33 days, harvested and returned to Earth in October 2014. NASA then carried out food safety analysis at its Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A second lot of Veg-01 plant pillows were activated by Kelly on July 8, which after growing for 33 days were harvested. The seeds were already on the station for 15 months before they were activated.

The Veggie system was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin, and tested at Kennedy before flight. Veggie, along with two sets of pillows containing the romaine seeds and one set of zinnias, was delivered to the station on the third cargo resupply mission by SpaceX in April 2014.

After the first crop of lettuce was returned from the space station, Dr. Gioia Massa, NASA’s payload scientist for Veggie at Kennedy began working with a team of flight doctors and NASA safety representatives to get approval for the crew to eat the produce.

“Microbiological food safety analysis looks very good on the first Veg-01 crop of romaine lettuce,” Massa said.