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Space lettuce! Astronauts to grow greens on space station

Fresh salads may soon be on the menu for astronauts aboard the International Space Station as they try out a new zero-gravity greenhouse.

Veggie plant growth chamber
Space greens, coming soon to the ISS. NASA/Bryan Onate

Life on the International Space Station isn't exactly full of gourmet meals with fresh vegetables. No waiters will stop by your space-table and craft a Caesar salad while you wait. Astronauts are more likely to reconstitute mysterious green blobs of spinach and call it a day.

A new mini-greenhouse designed for the International Space Station by Orbital Technologies Corporation could soon provide astronauts with fresh lettuce, grown in space. Specifically, they'll be growing Outredgous, a type of red romaine. Plenty of plant-growth experiments have taken place on the space station, but this time the results are geared for consumption by hungry astronauts excited for a taste of fresh food.

The plant-growth facility, known as "Veggie," will head to the ISS on an upcoming supply mission. It incorporates a flat-panel light bank with LEDs and features a collapsible design for transportation.

The Veggie is the largest plant-growth chamber to be used on the ISS, but it is still less than a foot in width. Quarters on the station are tight, so it has to be small to fit in. The plants themselves grow in a pillow-like container that holds the roots while the plant sticks out from a hole in the top.

The experiment is focused on growing lettuce from seed and investigating the safety of eating plants grown in space. This could have implications for supplying food on long-term space flights, such as a manned mission to Mars would require. In the shorter term, it could provide a nice salad for an astronaut who's tired of the usual freeze-dried fare.

Veggie pillow
The lettuce will grow in veggie "pillows." NASA/Gioia Massa