Dwarf tomato seeds to be launched to space station aboard SpaceX resupply flight
Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news of fascinating discoveries, scientific breakthroughs and more.
SpaceX’s 26th commercial launch is set to launch this weekend and will carry plenty of supplies, a pair of new solar arrays, dwarf tomato seeds and an array of science experiments to the International Space Station.
The mission will also deliver ice cream and Thanksgiving-style treats, including spicy green beans, apple pies, pumpkin pie and candy corn to the space station crew.
The Dragon spacecraft was scheduled to lift off Tuesday with its 7,700-pound (3,493-kilogram) payload from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but the launch was delayed by bad weather. It is now scheduled to take off on Saturday, November 26 at 2:20 PM ET.
The International Space Station’s solar arrays, or iROSA, will be installed outside the floating laboratory during the spacewalks scheduled for Nov. 29 and Dec. 3. The solar arrays will boost the power of the space station.
The cargo includes a number of health-related items such as Lunar Microscope Kit. The portable hand-held microscope will allow astronauts to collect and send images of blood samples to surgeons on Earth for diagnosis and treatment.
Nutrients are a key component of maintaining good health in space. But fresh produce is in short supply on the space station compared to the prepackaged meals astronauts eat during their six-month stay in low Earth orbit.
“It’s quite important for our research goals at NASA to be able to sustain the crew not only with food, but also to look at different types of plants as sources of nutrients that we would have a hard time sustaining on long journeys between distant destinations like Mars and so on.” n.,” said Curt Costello, chief scientist for NASA’s International Space Station program and deputy administrator of the ISS Research Integration Office.
Astronauts have grown and tasted different types of lettuce, radishes and chili peppers on the International Space Station. Now crew members can add some dwarf tomatoes — specifically Red Robin tomatoes — to their list of space-grown salad ingredients.
The experiment, known as Pick-and-Eat Salad-Crop Productivity, Nutritional Value, Acceptability to Supplement the ISS Food System, is part of an effort to ensure continuous production of fresh food in space.
Dwarf tomato seeds will be grown under two different light treatments to measure their effects on how many tomatoes can be harvested, as well as the nutritional value and taste of the plants. Red Robin tomatoes will also be grown on Earth as a control experiment. The two crops will be compared to measure the impact of the zero-gravity environment on tomato growth.
Space tomatoes will be grown in small bags called plant cushions installed in the space station’s vegetable production system, known as the Vegetable Growth Chamber. Astronauts will often water and nourish the plants as they grow, as well as pollinate the flowers.
“Tomatoes will be a new adventure for us on the Veggie team, trying to figure out how to keep these thirsty plants well-watered without overwatering,” said Joya Massa, a NASA space crop production scientist and principal investigator of the tomato study. .
Tomatoes will be ready for their first taste in the spring.
The crew expects three harvests of tomatoes 90, 97 and 104 days after the plants start growing. During taste tests, the crew will evaluate the taste, aroma, juiciness and texture of tomatoes grown using the two different light treatments. Half of each tomato crop will be frozen and returned to Earth for analysis.
Growing plants on the space station not only provides an opportunity for fresh food and creative taco nightsit can also boost the crew’s spirits during their long space flight.
The astronauts will also take surveys to track their moods while tending to and interacting with the plants to see how growing seedlings improves their experience amid the isolation and confinement of the space station.
The hardware is still being developed for larger crop production on the space station and possibly other planets, but scientists are already planning what plants can grow best on the moon and Mars. Earlier this year a team successfully grows plants in lunar soil which include samples collected during the Apollo missions.
“Tomatoes will be a great crop for the moon,” Massa said. “They’re very nutritious, very tasty, and we think the astronauts will be really excited to grow them there.”