For the first time, NASA astronauts on the International Space Station will harvest and eat fresh produce grown in space.
Expedition 44 crew members and one-year astronaut Scott Kelly will harvest a crop of "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce on Monday from the Veggie plant growth system.
Half of the space food will be consumed aboard the orbiting laboratory and the other will be frozen to be sent back to Earth for analysis.
Crop of "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce on the ISS.
The space gardening experiment called Veg-01 uses the Veggie system developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. NASA hopes the technology will provide future deep space missions with a sustainable food source as a part of NASA's Human Research Program for its Journey to Mars.
"There is evidence that supports fresh foods, such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants. Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people's moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space," Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at Kennedy.
Scientists for the Human Research Program said growing fresh produce in space could also provide a psychological benefit, as Earth studies have shown an association between plants and well-being.
"Besides having the ability to grow and eat fresh food in space, there also may be a psychological benefit,” said Dr. Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for Veggie at Kennedy.
"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,” Massa said. “I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario."
The space-grown produce was approved for consumption after the first crop of Veg-01 lettuce was grown and returned to Earth last year for food safety analysis.
Image Credit: NASA