One Giant Leaf! Space Salad For Dinner

Red romaine lettuces grown under micro-gravity conditions and washed with citric acid-based sanitisers will be eaten on the ISS.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will tuck into space-grown salad today, the first time vegetables cultivated on board the craft have been eaten.

The red romaine lettuces have been grown under micro-gravity conditions and will be washed with citric acid-based sanitisers before being eaten.

Half of the greens will be sent back to Earth for analysis, while the remainder will be eaten by the crew.

The seeds were activated in July on two ‘pillows’ sitting underneath a flat panel light bank fitted with red, blue and green LEDs which stimulate plant growth.

The lettuces would have grown with just the red and blue lights, but the produce would have been purple. The green LEDs were added to give it the familiar dark red colour.


An artist’s impression of how a Mars farm could look Pic: NASA

The first batch of lettuce was grown in May last year and sent back to Earth, where scientists tested it to see whether it could be safely eaten by the crew.

The main reason for the project is to examine ways for crews to sustain themselves in space on long journeys, such as an eventual trip to Mars.

NASA payload scientist Gioia Massa said: “The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits.

“I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario.”

Alexandra Whitmire, a behavioural health scientist for NASA, added that gardening in space could also help astronauts to de-stress.

The system is also being studied by some Middle East nations with limited water availability to grow crops efficiently.