Astronauts taste space lettuce, become zero-g food critics

After months of anticipation, astronauts finally get their fresh greens by nibbling on just-harvested space-grown lettuce.

Amanda Kooser
Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
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Scott Kelly with lettuce
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Scott Kelly with lettuce
Astronaut Scott Kelly poses with the lettuce before harvest. NASA

Decades of astronauts have had to make due with freeze-dried, vacuum-packed foods. They probably dream about things like crisp salads packed with gorgeous leafy greens harvested from a field.

Dream no more, dear astronauts. Fresh lettuce in space is now official. Astronauts on the International Space Station got their first taste of space-grown greens Monday.

It's been a long road from seed to snack. The Veg-01 mini-greenhouse experiment (known as "Veggie") started in May 2014 with the growth of a small crop of Outredgeous, a type of red romaine lettuce. The first batch went back to Earth for safety testing, and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly started a second crop on July 8.

This may be the most anticipated salad in history. The event was broadcast live on NASA's streaming online television service. "We'll get started with the harvesting in a couple minutes and right after that we'll have lunch," Kelly told mission control as crew members prepared to cut the plants.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, wearing gloves, handled harvesting duties. The lettuce in the growing module was bathed in a pinkish light. Once removed from the chamber, the lettuce looks pretty much like any greens you see on Earth.

Picking lettuce on the space station isn't like strolling into your backyard and grabbing a handful of greens for dinner. Lindgren swabbed the lettuce for testing before taking a pair of scissors to the leaves, snipping off samples and placing them in a plastic bag to keep them from floating off around the station. They even saved some for their cosmonaut colleagues who were out doing a space walk at the time.

The astronauts followed through with their original plan to add some extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a dressing. Kelly and Lindgren were joined by Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui for the ground-breaking appetizer. They touched their leaves together and said "Cheers!"

"Bon appetit," Kelly said before taking his first bite. "That's awesome," Lindgren said. "That's fresh." Kelly likened the taste to arugula. The space lettuce garnered nothing but positive reviews.

Lindgren talked about how the space station is a sterile environment of white and aluminum. "It's really fun to see green growing things in here we're intentionally growing for sustenance," he said before polishing off his salad.