Astronauts Enjoy the First Crop of Space-Grown Peppers

Credit: NASA.

On October 29, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) harvested the first chile peppers grown in space and enjoyed a little extra spice with their dinner. The chile peppers were grown over a three-month period in the Advanced Plant Habitat module and represent one of the most complex growth experiments conducted to date on the ISS. Unlike on Earth, where crops are grown in soil, exposed to sunlight, and watered regularly, the Advanced Plant Habitat grows crops under artificial LED lights and in a porous clay substrate that can also deliver the nutrients and water needed for plant growth. The habitat also includes equipment with a multitude of sensors for monitoring the conditions of the growth chamber.

Cultivating chile peppers is part of an experiment called Plant Habitat-04 led by NASA’s Matt Romeyn and conducted by a diverse team of scientists. The experiment is a part of NASA’s research into growing crops in space to sustain astronauts on missions that may last months or even years. Peppers were selected because they provide humans with key nutrients, including Vitamin C, and are safe to consume due to their low microbial levels. Furthermore, chile peppers are hardy and self-pollinating, and thus have a higher chance of growing successfully. Forty-eight Hatch chile pepper seeds were launched to the ISS aboard a SpaceX cargo resupply mission, and water was added once they were placed in the Advanced Plant Habitat last July. A second crop of peppers was harvested on November 26. While the first crop was enjoyed by the astronauts aboard the ISS, some of the second crop will be sent back to Earth for further analysis. Experiments like this can help solve the logistical challenges of feeding crews on the Moon and potentially on Mars. READ MORE