One of the keys to long-term space exploration is to be able to grow fresh food in space. NASA has announced that on November 30, astronaut Kate Rubins harvested the first radish plants growing in the Advanced Plant Habitat aboard the ISS. NASA says that Rubins collected and wrapped each plant in foil and place them in cold storage for the return trip to Earth next year.
The radishes will return to Earth aboard SpaceX’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission. Plant Habitat-02 marks the first time that NASA has grown radishes on the ISS. NASA chose the radish because the vegetable is well understood by scientists, and they reach maturity in only 27 days. The space agency also points out that radishes are edible and nutritious.
They were chosen because they are genetically similar to a small flowering plant related to cabbage called Arabidopsis that is frequently studied in microgravity. Astronauts previously grew leafy greens on the space station as well as dwarf wheat. A range of crops helps the space agency determine which plants will thrive in microgravity and offers the best variety and nutritional balance for long-duration missions.
Plant Habitat-02 was structured to allow NASA to identify the optimum balance of care and feeding to produce quality plants. The crop required little maintenance while growing inside the habitat. The habitat uses a porous clay material loaded with slow-release fertilizer, allowing precision for comparing nutrients provided to and absorbed by the plants.
NASA’s habitat also uses red, blue, green, and broad-spectrum white LED lights to provide a variety of light to stimulate plant growth. A sophisticated control system handles water delivery, and the habitat is fitted with control cameras and more than 180 sensors for researchers on the ground to monitor the experiment.