Going purely from the Apollo movies and what you can remember from your last visit to the Science Museum, being cooped up in an airless container orbiting the solar system makes you miss a lot of things about planet Earth. Contact with loved ones, the caress of a cool evening breeze, sunsets over the ocean …
Fresh greens, however, never seem to enter the equation. Not even the most detoxed Goop enthusiast would admit to kale cravings in a zero-gravity, peeing-in-your-space-suit situation.
But this—and the fact that any human being living off tube food for three months would probably quite like a bowl of onion rings—doesn't seem to have occurred to NASA. The space agency announced that today, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will sample the first vegetable ever to have been grown in space: red romaine lettuce.
Cultivated as part of NASA's plant-growing experiment Veg-01, lettuce seeds were activated last month and grown aboard the ISS on two "pillows" underneath an LED light bank. Red and blue lights stimulated the plant's growth, while a green light was used to give it the plant its familiar dark red colour.
The first batch of lettuce was produced in May but sent back to Earth where scientists performed tests to ensure the vegetable was safe to eat. Half of today's lettuce sample will be frozen and sent back for further analysis, but ISS crew will eat the remainder after washing it with a citric acid base. (French vinaigrette presumably doesn't get rid of freaky space bugs quite so effectively.)
The Veg-01 experiment is being used to explore plant growth in space, with scientists hoping that findings will allow crew to sustain themselves for longer space journeys, such as a trip to Mars.
"The crew does get some fresh fruits or vegetables, such as carrots or apples, when a supply ship arrives at the space station. But the quantity is limited and must be consumed quickly," NASA scientist Dr Gioia Massa explained.
As well as the practical benefits of being able to grow food aboard the ISS, tending to plants can also boost astronauts' wellbeing.
Massa added: "The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling, and psychological benefits. I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario."
It seems to have been a good year for intergalactic gastronomy. In May, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti brewed the first espresso in space and earlier this month, a Japanese brewery-distillery announced that it would be sending six of its whiskies to the ISS as part of a study on how zero-gravity conditions impact aging. It's only a matter of a time before the station gets its own happening street food scene.
The astronauts have yet to report back on what the space salad actually tastes like but here's hoping it's tastier than the chalky "astronaut ice cream" they've been subjected to until now.