One Small Step for Veggies: Astronauts Eat Lettuce Grown in Space

Space Lettuce

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By Keith Wagstaff

Even astronauts have to eat their vegetables. For the first time, produce grown in space was harvested by NASA astronauts for an out-of-this-world salad.

"Bon appetit!" said astronaut Scott Kelly before sticking a piece of the "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce in his mouth on Monday. "It tastes good. It tastes kind of like arugula."

Each piece was cleaned with a citrus-based sanitizing wipe before consumption, a safety precaution before the real dressing — made from balsamic vinegar and olive oil — was dabbed on the space produce.

The romaine lettuce was harvested in an expandable "Veggie" unit, where seedlings from Earth grew from root-mat "pillows" under LED lights.

Half of the lettuce was harvested for consumption and half was frozen so it could be sent back to Earth for analysis. The plants took 33 days to grow to full size aboard the International Space Station.

Related: Russian Cosmonauts Embark on Six-Hour Spacewalk

Why take so much effort to grow lettuce? NASA hopes that this Veg-01 experiment could be the first step toward creating self-sustaining food supplies for a trip to Mars or future deep-space missions.

"This payload, and having the ability to grow your own food, is a big step in that direction," Kelly said.

The harvesting took place while Russian cosmonauts were in the middle of their six-hour spacewalk outside of the ISS, where they were performing maintenance tasks and installing new equipment. Luckily, Kelly and his NASA colleagues saved some left-over lettuce for them when they returned.