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ISS astronauts will eat lettuce today, and they’re really excited about it

Astronauts on board the International Space Station are gearing up for a meal of great significance today, for besides the usual slop squeezed from pouches and scraped out of cans, the folks on the ISS will for the very first time be enjoying a meal that includes something grown and harvested right there on the space station.

OK, it may only be a head of red-leaf romaine lettuce, but if we’re ever going to make it to Mars, advancements like this are crucial.

Actually, astronauts have been growing vegetables aboard the ISS for a few years now, but up to now the plant life has always been sent back to Earth for scientific analysis.

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The lettuce that’ll form part of Monday’s historic meal took 33 days to grow and comes from seeds that were carried aboard the ISS for the last 15 months, NASA explained on its website. It’s not known what other foodstuffs are on the menu today, though presumably a freshly cooked pizza from a spacecraft-ready 3D food printer would be a popular accompaniment.

NASA says that the lettuce-growing experiment is part of an ongoing project studying the in-orbit function and performance of its space-based plant growth technology, called Veggie.

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Developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. in Wisconsin, Veggie was delivered to the space station by SpaceX in April last year.

The kit comprises an expandable Veggie unit with a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs that enable plant growth as well as monitoring by the crew.

A facility like this is considered essential for longer missions into deep space, as the amount of food required for such  journeys would be too great to carry from Earth.

Dr. Giola Massa, who works on the Veggie team, says, “The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits,” adding that “plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario.”

Gardening

NASA says the space garden could also be used by astronauts for “recreational gardening activities” during particularly long missions. Imagine that – green-fingered astronauts swapping horticulture tips on how to grow the tastiest toms. At least there’ll be none of those pesky flea beetles to deal with, although heading into deep space they may eventually have bug-eyed creatures of a much larger variety to deal with.