space lettuce
April 12, 2014

SpaceX-3 Resupply Mission Will Deliver ‘Veggie’ Growing Facility To The Space Station

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The remoteness of the International Space Station means that the culinary options for astronauts living onboard are somewhat limited, but all that may change when the SpaceX-3 resupply mission arrives at the station early next week.

The mission’s Dragon capsule is expected to deliver NASA’s Veg-01, an experiment designed to expand and evaluate the capability of the Veggie growing facility onboard the ISS. The trial will focus on growing and developing “Outredgeous” lettuce seedlings in Veggie’s plant “pillows.”

“Veggie will provide a new resource for US astronauts and researchers as we begin to develop the capabilities of growing fresh produce and other large plants on the space station,” said Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for Veggie, in a statement. “Determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test.”

To grow food, Veggie will use red, blue and green LEDs in a distinctive layout that is collapsible for travel and storage. It is capable of expanding up to 18 inches as plants develop within it.

“The internal growing area is 11.5 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep, making it the largest plant growth chamber for space to date,” Massa said.

Due to limited space, some alterations in the growth chamber were made to allow for space needs. NASA scientists were able to grow a crop of lettuce and radishes in the prototype test unit. Seedlings were put into the Veggie root-mat pads, and their development was watched for fitness, size, quantity of water utilized and the microbes that grew on them.

“I am thrilled to be a member of the Veggie and Veg-01 team and proud of all the work we have done to prepare for flight,” Massa said. “Our team is very excited to see the hardware in use on the space station.”

The Veggie project scientist said she hopes the project will be a valuable learning tool and source of food growth for crew members. It also might be utilized by astronauts for leisurely gardening pursuits during long-duration space missions. The device may have significance for enhancing growth and biomass generation on Earth, meaning it would benefit the typical citizen.

Massa added that she is enthusiastic about seeing all types of “neat payloads” in the Veggie unit and growing its capability as NASA finds out more concerning the food safety of crops cultivated in microgravity.

Veggie was developed by a NASA collaboration with Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wis. Staff at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida worked to get the unit’s hardware flight-certified for use on the ISS.

According to NASA’s latest announcement, the upcoming resupply mission is slated for a 4:58 p.m. EDT launch on Monday, April 14. Weather should not be a factor as forecasters with the US Air Force 45th Weather Squadron called for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions, the space agency said.

The upcoming SpaceX-3 mission is the third commercial resupply mission to the ISS for SpaceX. The mission calls for delivering about 5,000 pounds of cargo to the station and returning about 3,500 pounds to Earth.