For the future, astronauts can cultivate lettuce for deep space trips.
The red romaine lettuce astronauts cultivated on the ISS a few years ago aren’t just as good as Earth-grown lettuce, they’re also as healthy. NASA’s Christina Khodadad, Gioia Massa and their colleagues examined and studied three groups of lettuce cultivated on the space station from 2014 to 2016. They matched it to lettuce that they grew here at home under same conditions — in the similar relative humidity, temperature and carbon dioxide concentration, among other things — and concluded that the level of nutrients between them is same.
The basic difference between the two is that the ISS vegetables have more microbes, but that’s maybe just because of the microflora that are present on the space station. None of them, though, are unsafe for humans, such as Salmonella and E. coli. The scientists’ discoveries are significant, because they tell us that we can cultivate food in space for long journeys. NASA frequently sends supplies to the ISS, so the station’s crew isn’t at risk of food scarcities. For journeys to the Mars and moon in the future, however, NASA needs to find a way to complement pre-packaged food.
Massa and Khodadad described:
“Right now we cannot assure that we will have a diet to meet the requirements of the team for these longer, deep space missions, so one possible solution will be to complement the packaged diet with fresh produce. This [space-grown lettuce] will give extra vitamins and other nutrients, textures, flavors and variety to the packaged diet. Cultivating plants may also help with menu fatigue and provide psychological benefits when astronauts are away from home. In the long period, if we ever want to have space colonization, cultivation of crops will be vital for establishing any level of self-sufficiency and sustainability.
More over to providing food, plants may also play a significant role in future Life Support Systems required for long-duration missions. Plants produce oxygen as well as eliminate and fix carbon dioxide, which is important in closed systems like the ISS or future Mars/moon facilities.”
Since humans can’t survive on lettuce alone, NASA also sent cabbage and kale to the ISS to find out if astronauts can cultivate them for long trips in the future.