Astronauts living at the International Space Station (ISS) took their first bites of space-grown lettuce on Monday, in what scientists described as another step toward enabling human missions to Mars.
Thats awesome, exclaimed Nasa astronaut Kjell Lindgren, after he ate a piece of red romaine lettuce that was grown in a special box aboard the orbiting outpost.
Tastes good, agreed US astronaut Scott Kelly, who is spending one year at the research station.
Kind of like arugula, Kelly added, then used small bottles to spread extra olive oil and balsamic vinegar on his leaf, much as one might spread ketchup and mustard on a hot dog.
Nasa says that if space explorers can grow their own food while they are away from the Earth they would be more likely to survive the rigors of deep space exploration, which can last months or even years.
With no way to resupply a spacecraft making a long journey to and from Mars, the ability to cultivate food during the trip will be key to survival, said Kelly.
This payload, and having the ability for us to grow our own food is a big step in that direction, he said.
Ray Wheeler, Nasas lead scientist for advanced life support activities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, also said fresh foods that contain antioxidants, such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce, could have a positive impact on peoples moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space.
The red romaine lettuce was grown in a special plant-growing box called a Veggie unit that was built by Orbital Technologies Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin, and was flown to space aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship.
The seeds are contained in rooting pillows, which come complete with soil and fertilizer.
Since water cannot be poured in space, a special irrigation system delivers moisture to the plant pillows from below.