SpaceX launches tomato seeds and other supplies to the space station
SpaceX is bringing new supplies to the International Space Station this weekend after bad weather at the launch site forced the company to cancel its first attempt.
The mission lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET Saturday. The original departure date was Tuesday.
The abundance of supplies on board included a pair of new solar arrays for the space station, dwarf tomato seeds and a range of science experiments. There will also be treats for astronauts on the space station, such as ice cream and Thanksgiving dishes such as spicy green beans, cranberry and apple desserts, pumpkin pie and candy corn.
The solar arrays will be installed outside the floating lab during the spacewalks scheduled for November 29 and December 3. They will give the space station a power boost.
SpaceX has launched more than two dozen resupply missions to the space station over the past decade as part of a multibillion-dollar deal with NASA. This startup comes on the back of SpaceX’s busiest year to date, with more than 50 operations to date, including two cosmonaut missions.
The cargo on board includes a number of health-related elements 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 pretty 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 squeezing.” to support long journeys between distant destinations like Mars, etc.,” said Kurt Costello, chief scientist for NASA’s International Space Station program and deputy manager 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 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 the impact on the number of tomatoes that 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 a 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 feed the plants.
“Tomatoes will be a new adventure for us with vegetables team, trying to figure out how to keep these thirsty plants well-watered without watering them,” 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 is waiting the tomato harvest 90, 97 and 104 days after the start of plant growth. During taste tests, the crew will evaluate the taste, aroma, juiciness and texture of tomatoes grown through 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.
Studies will track astronauts’ moods as they care for and interact with plants to see how growing seedlings improves the crew’s mood experience amid the isolation 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.”