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In August 2015, NASA announced the most shocking news which left people around the world gobsmacked. What is that news you ask? Well, that the astronauts of the International Space Station had successfully grown lettuce in the zero-gravity environment. Yes, they harvested a crop of “Outredgeous” Red Romaine Lettuce in the geo-stationary orbit, to be precise.
The astronauts cleaned the leafy greens with citric acid-based food safe sanitising wipes before consuming them. Half of the space bounty was consumed and the other half was packaged and frozen on the station until it could be returned to Earth to be further analysed by scientists.
Now, I got curious, as to how did they manage to grow vegetables in a weightless environment where everything floats?
The secret to grow plants in space is called ‘the plant pillow’. Inside the pillow there’s controlled-release fertiliser, water, and calcined clay, which helps with aeration. The pillow has a slit at the top where a “wick” can be inserted, which has a sticky surface to keep the seed in place and also helps draw water from the pillow to the plant. The entire growing system – developed by Orbital Technologies Corp who called this ambitious project as, Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE), includes red and blue LED lights as a substitute of sunlight required for photosynthesis. They’re set up in a fashion so that the seedlings orient themselves upwards and out of the pillow. The walls of the system can be expanded to help protect the plants as they get bigger.
Well, isn’t that just amazing!
Image Credit: YouTube
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