Space veggies may be healthy, but watering them is tricky

Brittany A. Roston - Mar 6, 2020, 2:01 pm CST
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Space veggies may be healthy, but watering them is tricky

A newly published study reveals that lettuce grown in space is just as healthy as its counterpart grown on Earth, joining a previous taste test that determined the green and red leaves were ‘tasty.’ Watering plants in a microgravity environment isn’t simple, however, and though a syringe-based watering system worked well enough for lettuce, NASA says it needs something more sophisticated for bigger vegetables.

NASA has been experimenting with plants grown in the International Space Station for years. Lettuce has been of particular interest, helping experts gather data that’ll pave the way for eventual space-grown food for astronauts. In 2015, the crew on the ISS got to sample their space-grown lettuce for the first time; they said at the time that it was tasty.

A newly published study has found that the lettuce grown in space is just as nutritious as the lettuce grown on Earth, which is good news for astronauts. The research follows past studies that found the lettuce was safe to eat. Space-grown veggies serve as a fresh alternative to the prepackaged meals astronauts receive in supply shipments.

Actually growing vegetables in space is a bit tricky, though. Because the ISS has a microgravity environment, astronauts must water the lettuce using a large syringe with tubing that runs to a container called a ‘plant pillow.’ This method won’t work well for larger plants that require more water, according to a release from NASA this week.

That’s why the space agency recently teamed with Tupperware Brands and Techshot on a new plant growing system called Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS). As the name suggests, this is a passive watering system designed for use in space. The system features a 13.5oz water reservoir that plants can draw from, meaning astronauts will only need to water larger plants once every couple of days.


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