When you think of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, you probably think of rocket launches with thousands of spectators lining up at the Visitor Complex or along U.S. 1 to get a glimpse, hear and feel the rumble of the Falcon 9, Atlas V, Delta or one of the many other rockets that launch from NASA’s Space Port Launching Complex. Among many experiments transported to the International Space Station (ISS) by the Falcon 9’s Dragon Capsule SpaceX-3 resupply mission was a vegetable growing unit known as Veggie. The intent of this particular plant growth chamber is to give researchers an idea of what it would take for astronaut crews to grow and supplement their own meals as they make their way deeper into space. We are starting to understand more and more the effect of microgravity on plant growth and development in space, as well as the intricate world of botany, chemistry and engineering, on board the ISS.
With A Year of Education in Space (YES), Educator Astronauts Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold, both former teachers, will work on the ISS Veggie project and speak to K-16 students from around the country. Veggie, beyond just growing food with nutritional value, will also provide boosts to psychological health and morale for the entire crew who will get to enjoy a bit of green life amidst cables, computers, and metals. Veggie is having great influence on both Earth and the ISS. This past year, over 100 schools in South Florida participated in the Veggie project via the NASA’s competitive Programs for Science Museum and Planetarium grant, which was awarded to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Students in grades 6-12th were involved with authentic research, planting, growing, collecting, measuring, and reporting all the data from the NASA Veggie unit at their school and then reporting it to the Veggie scientist at NASA Kennedy Space Center. This partnership with the Fairchild Garden will continue for three more years in advance of similar experiments to be replicated with the ISS Veggie unit. The program is already expanding to schools beyond South Florida, reaching North Florida, Puerto Rico and soon to Ohio.
Veggie’s immediate results regarding nutrition and psychological effects could potentially contribute answers to the challenges of deep space exploration, particularly the Journey to Mars. Veggie could also contribute knowledge to producing oxygen in an enclosed habitat environment. Through the Veggie project, we are learning methods for farming in microgravity, including identification of crops that efficiently yield maximal nutritional and psychological benefits to the entire crew during a mission. Veggie’s first harvest was red romaine lettuce, which astronauts ate, and then was followed by the first flowers (Zinnias) ever grown on ISS. Astronauts are currently growing mixed greens, such as Mizuna mustard, Waldmann’s green lettuce and Outredgeous Red Romaine lettuce.
Veggie is yet another example of how NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is more than rockets and engineers. Be sure to follow Veggie’s future harvests with Scientist Dr. Gioia Massa Twitter @plantsinspace or Fairchild Tropical Gardens Twitter @GrowBeyondEarth.
Video Romaine Lettuce
First harvest of red romaine lettuce, collected and send back to earth for analysis.
Astronaut Joe Acaba preparing the new pillows with mix green seeds.
Lester Morales, M.D.
Educator Professional Development Specialist, NASA STEM EPDC
NASA Kennedy Space Center