Astronauts Have Grown Lettuce In Space For The First Time (And Today They Get To Eat It)

It’s hard enough for some people to keep plants alive and thriving on the face of the Earth, but a team of astronauts on the International Space Station have green enough thumbs that they’ve managed to cultivate plants in space. Today, they’ll get to eat the fruits of their labors, chowing down on the first-ever lettuce grown in space.

Fresh food is rare in space, and there isn’t a lot of room for refrigeration. Most fresh things get consumed immediately upon arrival in orbit. But space missions are getting longer, especially if we ever want to move a colony to Mars, so researchers have focused on how to grow greens in space for those long hauls.

The red romaine lettuce called “Outredgeous” was planted, grown and now harvested in space, Business Insider reports, as part of a NASA experiment called Veg-01. Scientists have been working on an effective way to grow plants in orbit, using a technology dubbed “Veggie” that combines the efforts of NASA and an aerospace research company called Orbital Technologies Corporation.

There are all kinds of factors that don’t exist on land: No gravity means water and soil won’t stay put, and roots tend to grow in weird directions. Not to mention a lack of rain or sunshine inside a metallic space station.

The plant growth system cultivated by astronauts thrives in zero gravity, in something akin to a tiny greenhouse. The Veggie system uses plant “pillows” as a bed for roots with a water reservoir below. Its lightweight structure made from special fabrics is filled with soil, fertilizer and seeds. Red and blue LEDs provide the colors of light that plants use for photosynthesis.

The set of Veg-01 pillows used for this batch were set in motion on July 8 and have grown for 33 days. Astronauts will get to eat the lettuce today, as part of a six-hour live-stream event on NASA TV that began just before 10 a.m. EDT on Monday, that also includes the Russian crew performing a spacewalk.

Anticipation was already running high last night, and puns were on point:

Here’s more info on the science behind space lettuce:

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