NASA announced that, in a few months, astronauts on the International Space Station could taste the red and green chillies fully grown on board thanks to thePlant Habitat-04 experiment (PH-04), which should make outer space “spicier”, although it will actually add a little more flavor to astronauts’ diets.
THE Hatch chili seeds arrived at the space station in June, aboard SpaceX’s 22nd commercial refueling service mission, and the NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, who arrived on the ISS in April at the head of the Crew-2, was the one who initiated the experiment.
Kimbrough, a flight engineer who is part of the seven-member crew of the Expedition 65, has previous experiences of cultivation in space and of the PH-04 project, helping grow and eat “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce in late 2016.
A team, with Kennedy Space Center’s research and exploration technology programs, planted 48 seeds in a device called a science carrier, which has clay to grow roots and a specially formulated controlled-release fertilizer.
The device is inserted in the’Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), one of the three plant growth chambers in the orbiting laboratory where astronauts farm.
If successful, PH-04 will add another crop that NASA can use to supplement astronauts’ diets in future missions.
“APH is the largest plant growth facility on the space station and has 180 sensors and controls to monitor plant growth and the environment.
It is a diverse growth chamber and allows us to help control the experiment from Kennedy, reducing the time astronauts spend caring for crops “
said the PH-04 project manager, Nicole Dufour.
The peppers will take about four months to grow before they can be collected and eaten, marking the first time astronauts have grown peppers on the station from seed to maturity. If the data indicates that the peppers are indeed safe, the crew will eat some and send the rest to Earth for analysis and studies.
“This is one of the most complex plant experiments on the station to date due to the long germination and growth times. We have previously tested flowering to increase the chances of a successful harvest, because the astronauts will have to pollinate the peppers to make the fruit grow“
said the principal investigator Matt Romeyn.
The beginning and the first steps of the PH-04 project
Astronauts grew the first flower on the ISS in 2015 and 2016, the Zinnia, the predecessor of longer-flowering, fruit-bearing and pepper-like crops. NuMex ‘Española Improved’ pepper, a Hatch pepper hybrid, was selected after more than two years of research on dozens of pepper varieties, all because they were looking for the perfect space crop for PH-04.
“The challenge is the ability to feed crews in low Earth orbit and then support explorers during future missions beyond low earth orbit to destinations including the Moon, as part of the Artemis program, and ultimately to Mars.
We are limited to crops that do not need extensive storage or processing“.
Scientists hope the crop will help supplement the astronauts’ diet in future missions by providing the vitamin C and other nutrients they need. due to life in conditions of microgravity, astronauts can lose some of their sense of taste and smell, increasing the demand for spicy or seasoned foods.
“Growing colorful vegetables in space can have long-term physical and psychological health benefits. We are discovering that growing plants and vegetables with colors and smells helps improve the well-being of astronauts “
Researchers will monitor pepper growth in project PH-04 and compare them to a control group on Earth, among other things they plan to collect crew feedback on the flavor and texture of the peppers, as well as Scoville measurements. .
“The spiciness of a pepper is determined by the environmental conditions of growth.
The combination of microgravity, quality of light, temperature and humidity of the root zone will affect the flavor, so it will be interesting to find out how the fruit will grow, ripen and taste; this is important because the food astronauts eat must be as good as the rest of their equipment.
To successfully send people to Mars and bring them back to Earth, we will not only need the most nutritious foods, but also the tastiest ones. “
said the team leader LaShelle Spencer.
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