- Astronauts in space have recently enjoyed fresh supplies of vegetables, including plants and choi.
- The crews turned them into a delicacy by marinating the leaves in garlic paste and soy sauce.
- NASA scientists told Insider how they helped develop crop production experiments.
Of the many challenges astronauts will face in future missions to the moon and Mars, maintaining health is one of the most important.
But in recent days, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have found amazing solutions to keep them on long-term missions. They recently enjoyed a fresh supply of vegetables, thanks in large part to the efforts of SpaceX Crew-1 mission commander and Expedition 64 crew member Michael Hopkins.
Insider spoke with two NASA scientists, Matt Romain and Joya Massa, who are working on crop production experiments known as Veg-03Kand VEG-03L. Romeyn is the leading scientist in the experiments, and Gioia is a scientist from the Kennedy Space Center.
Veg-03Kand VEG-03L is designed to test a new space crop, mustard “Amara”
According to Romeyn, pak choi germinates so long that the plant begins to bloom as part of its reproductive growth cycle. This was thanks to Hopkins’ efforts to use a small brush to pollinate plant flowers.
They adopted the approach after Hopkins and Romain discussed a number of options for the pollination process, including allowing flowers to self-pollinate.
“We were very happy with his efforts to pollinate these flowers to consider producing seeds from them,” Massa said.
She added that this approach “will also be very critical in the future to be able to produce new plants without obtaining seeds from Earth, so important for long-term missions such as the mission to Mars” and the moon.
Hopkins was extremely interested in plant growing, Romain and Massa said, and he spent much of his free time in space caring for them. This meant observing and watering the plants every day, as well as determining the optimal time for their collection.
“It’s a really challenging thing, so he had to check on these plants almost every day and monitor their growth and adjust his approaches to growing them,” Massa said.
The new collection methods were also among Hopkins’ discoveries in the production of space crops. This includes a sustainable approach to harvesting, called “harvest and return,” which involves harvesting repeatedly from the same plant, explained by Massa.
“He was just an amazing gardener and scientist for us,” she added.
Massa said the crew ate tea again as a side dish, marinating the leaves in garlic paste and soy sauce and then warming them in a small warming food.
“Delicious, plus texture or crunchiness,” Hopkins wrote in notes from the experiment after tasting the space-grown Amara mustard plant.
According to Massa, the crew also put the leafy vegetables on a tacos or cheeseburger they made. In the past, Massa had seen crew members enjoy the mustard plant Amara like lettuce. “I know the Russians had canned lobster salad, so they made packages of lettuce with canned lobster salad,” she added.
For now, astronauts are focusing on “take and eat salad” crops that do not require cooking or processing, as there is not much opportunity to do this type of work on the space station.
Next year there are plans to grow “dwarf tomatoes”, which Massa likened to cherry tomatoes.
Romain explained that NASA scientists on the crop production project seek to grow crops high in vitamin C and
for astronauts in space. This is because research at the Johnson Space Center has found that the nutritional value of food stored in space eventually deteriorates.
“Vitamins and quality can break down for some foods,” Massa said.
That’s why much of the work done in space agriculture, from a nutritional and supplementary point of view, is to feed the crews traveling to and from Mars, Romain explained. “We may not have a complete diet without supplementing with fresh crops,” he said of a future mission to Mars.
NASA officials certainly hope that the future crew mission to Mars is at stake. When the agency announced its partnership with SpaceX to return to the moon by 2024, it said in a press release that the trip to the moon would be an important step towards a possible mission to the Red Planet.
“This is something I was hoping to see,” said Scott Hubbard, a SpaceX adviser who previously ran NASA’s Mars program in an interview with Insider.