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NASA’s New VEGGIE System Allows Astronauts To Grow Food In Space

Plants grown with NASA VEGGIE system

Astronauts must be tired of consuming Tang and dried hamburger patties because a new vegetable production system, called VEGGIE for short, is set to launch on the NASA SpaceX Dragon capsule next year. This will give space travelers a new way to grow food while living 200 miles above the Earth, not to mention on the eventual long journeys to and from Mars.

VEGGIE weighs about 15 pounds and operates on only 115 watts, less than half the energy needed to power a desktop computer. It operates in a similar way to an indoor hydroponic garden, with blue, red, and green lights used to provide light while conserving power. A root mat is used to add water through capillary action.

Early version of NASA's VEGGIE experiment hardware

Rooting pillows made of Teflon-coated Kevlar and Nomex will contain fertilizer pellets and planting media, and will be either preloaded with seeds or astronauts will insert them once they are in space.

Crops like lettuce, leafy greens, radishes, bok choy, and other easy, quick-harvesting plants will be grown. Unfortunately the tasty crops like melons, corn, and even tomatoes are not an option due to the amount of space needed and amount of time they take to harvest.

Before astronauts get the green light to eat VEGGIE-grown foods, swab samples and frozen plant tissue will be sent back to earth so the Kennedy Space Station microbiologist can test them for bacteria and microorganisms. If everything is good, NASA will give them the go-ahead to grow and eat food in space.

If VEGGIE proves to be a success, this could be a huge stepping stone for what can be done in microgravity and could pave the way for more complex food-growing experiments. It sure sounds like a step up from a vacuum-packed bag of salad.

Images: NASA

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