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How do you garden in space?



June 19, 2014

NASA Astronaut Steve Swanson harvests a crop of red romaine lettuce plants aboard the ISS

Imagine being on the International Space Station for months, with no fresh greens……NASA has been trialling ‘Veggie’ a new vegetable growing capsule. But how do you grow plants with recycled air, no direct sunlight, and no sense of which way is ‘up’?

The Veggie capsule glows a strange purple, thanks to the combination of overhead red, blue and green LED lights so that the plants will grow upwards. Although the plants only need the red and blue, without the added green, it makes green leaves look an unappetising greyish-purple. To overcome air issues, a fan draws in air from the space station and passes it through a vent which sends carbon dioxide enriched air into the Veggie.

Expedition 39 flight engineer and NASA astronaut Steve Swanson activates the Veggie system May 8 on the space station.

Expedition 39 flight engineer and NASA astronaut Steve Swanson activates the Veggie plant growth system and Veg-01 experiment May 8 in the Columbus module on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA/Koichi Wakata

Each seed is embedded in a sealed plant pillow filled with fertilizer and a wicking medium so the plants can take up water. Apparently that part of the system needs some work as the plants became stressed and needed extra water.

The astronauts won’t get to try these first salad greens as NASA wants them frozen and brought back to double check for any pathogens, like E. coli, that might have snuck in to the system.

Although it’s an expensive system to create and manage, the Veggie can still be cost effective due to the weight and bulk of taking food into space and it has many added benefits, such as the psychological boost to astronauts of growing their own food.

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