The International Space Station (ISS) might get spicier as scientists are hoping to send Española chili pepper plants in November this year. If this happens then it could make peppers the very first fruit to be grown by US astronauts in space.
Ray Wheeler, NASA plant physiologist said that they were looking for the varieties of the plants which do not grow very tall and at the same time are very productive in the controlled environments which the researchers would be using in space.
Astronauts have often desired for more spicy and flavored foods, thus having an availability of hot flavored food would be quite great. In addition to the fact, the peppers contain vitamin C in very high proportions which is also important for space diets.
Although there are many varieties of chili peppers, Española peppers have been chosen since they grow at very high altitudes, can be easily pollinated and also have short growing time. Since 1982, astronauts have been successfully growing plants in space when Soviet Salyut 7 spacecraft crew grew the first model plant Arabidopsis. Since 2003, Russian cosmonauts have also been eating their own space produce, however, it was not till 2015 that American astronauts first tasted their own space lettuce.
Now a wide variety of vegetables have been grown on ISS which includes lettuce, peas, radishes and Chinese cabbage. Botanically, peas are part of a fruit and Russians have been growing them in their segment of the ISS. However, no US astronaut grew a fruiting plant in space yet which signifies that Española peppers could be the first one.
Due to microgravity, plants have some trouble growing as the root systems are quite complex and they normally use Earth’s gravity for orienting themselves. However, astronauts have figured out methods so that plants can grow successfully using special types of light. In 2018, a new growth system known as The Advanced Plant Habitat was sent to the ISS joining the Vegetable Production System for growing fresh food.
This is very significant for NASA’s plan to eventually send human beings to Mars. Once astronauts land on Mars it will be very difficult to send them freshly grown food back from the Earth. Thus growing their own food will be a top priority. Jacob Torres, a horticultural scientist said that all the rockets needed to land on Mars can be built, however, it will be useless if astronauts do not have food to eat. Researchers are presently working on several varieties of crops to be grown in space with a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients.