Lettuce grown in space can provide vital nutrients to astronauts who depend on processed food
Are vegetables grown in outer space as nutritious as the ones grown on Earth?
Red romaine lettuce grown on the International Space Station (ISS) has the same nutritional properties as the ones grown on earth, according to a study published in journal Frontiers in Plant Science.
The lettuce did not contain any disease-causing microbes and was safe to eat, the study noted.
Researchers at the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Kennedy Space Centre grew lettuce for 33-56 days inside a special growth chamber, nicknamed ‘Veggie’.
Veggie is a suitcase-shaped container that has growth chambers, or beds, called pillows. It was sterilised to prevent growth of pathogens.
Researchers conducted the experiment between 2014 and 2016, following which they ate a part of the crop — the rest was deep-frozen and sent back to earth for testing. They then used DNA sequencing to observe lettuce’s nutritional properties and found it similar to the crop grown on earth.
Researchers also cultured the bacteria on the lettuce and found that it contained more microorganisms than its earth-grown counterparts.
According to the study, researchers chose this variety of lettuce as it germinated easily.
The discovery is important as during outer-space experiments, scientists rely on processed foods. These foods lack additional potassium and vitamins such as K, B1, and C. In such a case, plant diet could be beneficial for them.
Going ahead, the ISS crew would try to grow a new batch of seeds that would include kale and cabbage. The idea is to make astronauts depend as little on food from the Earth as possible.
Growing their own greens could be beneficial for long-term missions as well.
These include Artemis-III — a 2024 planned flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft to the moon’s South Pole. Similarly, space-grown lettuce could help astronauts in other missions as well.
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