NASA is planning to grow fresh vegetables in space, 230 miles above the Earth. Later this year the space agency’s Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program will send astronauts to the International Space Station with kits to grow six romaine lettuce plants. Hopefully the project will allow our space explorers to farm edible food in space for the first time in history.
This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs developed by Orbital Technologies Corporation that are filled with a planting material similar to kitty litter. Over the following 28 days the lettuce plants will grow under bright-pink LED lights used to simulate real sunlight inside the mostly windowless space station.
Once the veggies are grown, the astronauts won’t be eating them anytime soon. Instead, the leafy greens will be sent back to Earth for cleanliness testing and inspected for bacteria. After the first batch of lettuce, the project could expand to other vegetables, including radishes and snap peas. NASA also says it might have even bigger plans to expand the program to potatoes and harder to grow crops such as wheat and rice, but for now leafy vegetables are the easiest to cultivate.
Growing food in space makes a lot of sense, especially if we plan to travel deeper and colonize further away planets. Instead of sending a rocket-fuel burning spaceship into orbit – according to Modern Farmer it costs $10,000 to send a single pound of food into space – our astronauts could develop their own sustainable and fresh food source. At the same time, these plants could naturally scrub carbon dioxide from the air, reducing the strain on environmental systems.