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Astronauts to Grow Lettuce in Space with NASA Veggie Farm

Veggie Farm.

Astronauts will soon have the chance to grow lettuce for themselves; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are sending a mini-farm into space. It will launch the Vegetable Production System(Veggie)  in a SpaceX’s Dragon capsule on Monday 14th of April 2014.

Their main aim is to provide food safety for crew with these experiments. Orbital Technologies developed Veggie Unit through a small business research program. It collaborated with NASA engineers to get the hardware certified for use inside the space station

What is SpaceX’s Dragons capsule?

The private spaceflight company SpaceX launched its next Dragon cargo Capsule mission for the International Space Station. The capsule carried a small plant growth chamber. It was built to let astronauts grow leafy vegetable Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) in orbit.
Originally the project was decided to launch last year, but it faced delays, to ensure all safety precautions were taken, the report said.

Goal of the experiment.

The goal of the Veg-01 experiment, nicknamed “Veggie”, is to see how well plants grow in orbit. If these early tests go well and the food proves safe, scientists hope to expand the food index.

This study will help investigators to develop procedures and methods that allow astronauts to grow and safely eat space-grown vegetables. The experiment also is investigating another benefit of growing plants in space: the non-nutritional value of providing comfort and relaxation to the crew.

History of efforts:-

The first  case in this class was “specially developed strains of seeds” launched to 134 km on July 9, 1946 on a U.S. launched V-2 rocket. The first seeds launched into space and successfully recovered were maize seeds launched on July 30, 1946.

Soon team of scientists tried on rye, cotton and fungus. These early suborbital biological experiments were handled by Harvard University and the Naval Research Laboratory and were concerned with radiation exposure on living tissue.
This  experiment, was known as Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit.  It has its  Protocols, Procedures and Requirements, and uses a very simple chamber similar to a greenhouse. Water and light levels are controlled automatically.
The experiment had four major objectives:

  • To find out if the plants grown in space can be consumed safely.
  • What types of microorganisms might grow on the plants and what can be done to reduce the threat of microorganisms in the hardware prior to launch.
  • What can be done to clean the produce after it has been harvested.
  • How to optimize production compared to the resources required to grow it.

Since 2002, the Lada greenhouse protocol has been used to perform almost  every plant growth experiments on the space station.

Current:-

Veggie system
Lettuce Plants in Veggie system

The space station has the ability to do on spot adjustments for experimental conditions, it is advantageous for researchers.
According to NASA reports, the Veggie System is nothing but a plant growth chamber. It can grow itself to 11.5 inches wide and 14.5 inches deep. System packs plants into special “pillows” with a flat-panel light bank and red, blue, and green Light Emitting Diodes (LED). They will help the plant to cope up with zero gravity and sunlight.

The Veggie system provides the lighting and nutrient delivery but relies on the cabin’s temperature and carbon dioxide to facilitate plant growth.

Benefits:-

Not only could the Veggie system help astronauts eat fresh food more regularly a rarity 200 miles above the earth but the recreational gardening may help them feel less out of touch with our planet Earth.

Plants can scrub carbon dioxide and return oxygen, as well as adjust humidity. Growing plants in space may provide a psychological benefit to human spaceflight crews. It was observed that crew likes to nurture them.

Risks:-

Space-borne microbes that may develop during growth are a cause of concern. Therefore, the lettuce will undergo extensive testing.

Future:-

Scientists are hoping and planning that the chamber will eventually be used to grow a wider variety of vegetables, and even be used for variety of recreational gardening.

The chamber may even be used for more ambitious projects, like providing food for the average person back on Earth. After extensive testing on weightless horticulture, NASA is confident the lack of gravity will not impede growth.
In future space crews leaving the Earth for long duration’s will have the ability to grow their own food.

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