On Friday, astronauts aboard the International Space Station harvested three varieties of vegetables in the "Veggie" growth chamber and installed a new generation of plant research: The Advanced Plant Habitat.
The first three plant varieties
The Veggie team made a breakthrough on the International Space Station with the VEG-03D experiment. For the first time, three different plant varieties were grown simultaneously in the chamber.
On October 27, Joe Acaba, an astronaut at the station, harvested mizuna mustard, Waldmann green lettuce, and Roman red lettuce, providing himself and his team with the ingredients for a salad.
"It's an impressive harvest. Joe did a great job! " said Nicole Dufour, director of the Veggie project.
"We wanted to try something a little different as a continuation of our efforts for the technical demonstration of Veg-03. Based on some of our current soil tests, we decided to try a mixed crop. We expected the visual diversity of the plants would be more pleasant for the crew, as well as the variety of flavors offered by the different types of leafy vegetables," said the researcher.
During the harvest, Acaba only cut approximately half of the leafy vegetables, leaving the rest to continue growing for a future yield. This technique, called cut-and-eat-again repetitive harvesting, allows the crew to have access to fresh produce for a longer period of time.
The challenge of cultivating in space
"The biggest complication we have faced so far has been how well the mizuna has been growing," Dufour said. "Its long spear-shaped stems tend to get caught on the door when the crew opens and closes the unit to water the plants."
After the harvest, the team maintained installed the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), NASA's largest plant growth chamber.
"It's surprising that a plant growth system that was just an idea five years ago is now installed on the Space Station," said the people in charge of the project.
The Advanced Plant Habitat is a completely closed system, with a closed-loop system that has an environmentally controlled growth chamber. It uses red, blue, and green LED lights and wide-spectrum white LED lights. It also has more than 180 sensors that will transmit information to the Kennedy Center team in real time, including temperature, oxygen content, and humidity levels.
This new technology will be able to house multigenerational studies with monitored and controlled environmental variables to support the physiological tests performed on complete plants and the research on bioregenerative life support systems.
The nutritional drive of fresh foods and the psychological benefits of growing plants are fundamental as the agency plans future missions to deep space destinations.