Astronauts to Grow Lettuce In Space

A prototype version of Veggie with red romaine lettuce plants growing inside of it.
Image Credit:  NASA/Gioia Massa

SpaceX's Dragon module is scheduled to launch today at 20:58 UTC and among the more interesting things in the cargo manifest is a new grow chamber nicknamed "Veggie".

This is not NASA's first time attempt at hydroponics by any means, but this proof-of concept has something I haven't seen before - planting pillows.  The pillows contain one of two different sized arcillite (calcined clay media) to test which of the sizes provides better water and root distribution for the lettuce.

As with all NASA experiments, there are a multitude of research goals for Veggie, but three that caught my eye.

First is the tech behind the growth chamber and the data loggers used.

Second is the concern with food safety and microbial growth, highlighting the classic differences between hydroponics and aquaponics regarding the sanitizing of equipment.  It also explains why the plant pillows are one-time use.

Finally, there is the psychological aspect for the crew, from the inclusion of some fresh produce in their diet to the daily care of living plants.  I'd designate Veggie the ISS water cooler and wonder if any astronauts would fall over (space physics anyone?) just to smell the fresh air.

You can read more info about the Veg-01 experiment here.

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