NASA announced today that it is developing a vegetable garden designed for longer space missions and give space stations the ability to grow salad foods in space. The project is colloquially named “The Veggie” but is also aptly referred to as the Vegetable Production System.
[The Veggie] is a deployable plant growth unit capable of producing salad-type crops to provide the crew with a palatable, nutritious, and safe source of fresh food and a tool to support relaxation and recreation. The Veggie provides lighting and nutrient delivery, but utilizes the cabin environment for temperature control and as a source of carbon dioxide to promote growth.
There are two developing parties, first is NASA at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the second is Orbital Technologies Corporation in Wisconsin, a systems engineering company. On an International Space Station Expedition, a Biomass Production System, the Vegetable Production System predecessor, was sent to the ISS, spurring another prototype.
The Biomass Production System experiment resulted in the conclusion that germination and growth was not notably affected by an anti-gravity environment though seeds lacked protein when produced in space. Interestingly, more biodiversity was found in the samples on the ISS than were found on the ground, although there is no clear reason for this.
Also, microscopy of immature seeds fixed on the ISS showed embryos to be at a range of developmental stages, while ground control embryos has all reached the same stage of development. These differences could be attributable to differences in water delivery or reduced gas exchange due to lack of convection. These results suggest that the microgravity environment may affect the flavor and nutritional quality of potential space produce.
While the Biomass Production System was designed as more of a biological experiment of organic matter in space, the Veggie is much more than that. NASA’s Veggie mission page specifies that the Veggie is supposed to provide the crew with a sustainable source of fresh food as well as a recreation activity and a for a relaxation. The psychology involved with keeping a plant or animal alive provides a sense of purpose and direction – something that you might imagine could be lost on a 9 month voyage to Mars.
Let us know your thoughts on the Veggie, do you think it’s feasible? Let us know in the comments below or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.