Astronauts on board the International Space Station made history last night by eating the first fresh food grown in space, in what Nasa described as a key step in making a human mission to Mars possible.
The lettuces were nurtured from seeds in zero gravity for 33 days under coloured lights in a special pod.
American astronaut Dr Kjell Lindgren harvested the leaves using tongs and placed them on a tray before tucking in. Afterwards, he said: “That’s awesome.”
Fellow astronaut Scott Kelly spread olive oil and balsamic vinegar on his.
He said: “Tastes good. Kind of like arugula. It was one small bite for man.”
They and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui saved some lettuce leaves for Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who were outside on a spacewalk.
According to Nasa, the first Mars explorers will need to be able to grow their own food, on a mission that could last years with no prospect of resupply.
Dr Ray Wheeler, a Nasa scientist working on the project, said: “There is evidence that supports the idea that fresh foods such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants.
“Having fresh food like these in space could have a positive impact on people’s moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space.”
For the first attempt at space farming scientists chose a hardy variety of red romaine lettuce as the crop.
It was tended by Mr Kelly, who is spending a year on the space station.
That is helping scientists to evaluate the impact that a long mission to Mars would have on the human body.
The lettuce seeds were embedded in rooting pillows that contained soil and fertiliser.
In the past astronauts have had to wait for shipments of fresh vegetables and then eat them quickly, before they go off.
Nasa, which is aiming to send humans to Mars by the 2030s, said there could also be psychological benefits associated with “space gardening” and it may become a feature of life on the space station, and Mars.
Source: A. A.