Dwarf tomato seeds will be launched to the ISS on SpaceX’s next resupply flight
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When SpaceX’s 26th commercial resupply mission launches on Tuesday, it will carry plenty of supplies, a pair of new solar arrays, dwarf tomato seeds and a host of science experiments to the International Space Station.
The mission will also deliver ice cream and Thanksgiving-style treats, including hot green beans, apple desserts, pumpkin pie and candy corn, to the space station crew.
The Dragon spacecraft is expected to lift off with its 7,700-pound (3,493-kilogram) payload from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 3:54 p.m. ET, with live stream available on NASA’s website starting at 3:30 PM ET.
The International Space Station Introduces Solar Arrays, or iROSA, will be installed outside the floating laboratory during spacewalks scheduled for Nov. 29 and Dec. 3. Solar arrays will power the space station.
Cargo includes a variety of health items, such as Lunar Microscope Kit. The portable handheld 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 scarce on the space station compared to the prepackaged meals astronauts eat during their six-month stay in low Earth orbit.
“For our research goals at NASA, it’s quite important that we can support the crew not only with food, but also 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,” said Kirt Costello, chief scientist for NASA’s International Space Station program and deputy manager of the ISS Office of Research Integration.
Astronauts have grown and tasted different types of lettuce, radishes and chilies on the International Space Station. Now, crew members can add a few dwarf tomatoes — specifically, Red Robin tomatoes — to their list of space-grown salad ingredients.
The experiment, known as Lettuce Productivity, Nutritional Value and Acceptability to Supplement the ISS Food System, is part of an effort to ensure the continued production of fresh food in space.
Dwarf tomato seeds will be grown under two different light treatments to measure their effect 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 effects of a zero-gravity environment on tomato growth.
Space tomatoes will be grown in small bags called plant cushions installed in the Vegetable Production System, known as the Vegetable Growth Chamber, on the space station. Astronauts will often water and nurture 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 water these thirsty plants well without overwatering them,” said Gioia Massa, NASA’s space crop production scientist and principal investigator for the tomato study.
Tomatoes will be ready for the first taste test in the spring.
The crew expects three harvests of tomatoes 90, 97 and 104 days after the plants start growing. During the taste tests, the crew will evaluate the taste, aroma, juiciness and texture of tomatoes grown using two different light treatments. Half of each tomato harvest 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 lift the spirits of the crew during their long space flight.
The astronauts will also take surveys to track their mood while caring for and interacting with the plants to see how nurturing the plants improves their experience amid the isolation and confinement of the space station.
Hardware is still being developed for larger crop production on the space station and possibly on other planets, but scientists are already planning which plants might grow best on the Moon and Mars. Earlier this year, the team successfully grows plants on lunar soil which included samples collected during the Apollo missions.
“Tomatoes will be a great crop for the month,” Massa said. “They’re very nutritious, very tasty, and we think the astronauts will be really excited to grow them there.”
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