Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageNASA project proves the New Mexico chile is out of this world

By Karen Graham     Jul 14, 2019 in Science
A team of scientists at NASA is working to launch the Española chile pepper into space. This would be the first fruiting plant the United States has grown and harvested at the International Space Station.
One of the issues over long-term space missions is how to supply the needed food for the trip. Free-dried food can take up a lot of space and weight on an extended voyage and won't be that tasty. Back in the early 2000s, NASA began exploring ways to supplement astronauts’ diets with plants that can be grown in space or on other worlds.
NASA began by experimenting with growing seeds in simulated space environments here on Earth. With improved technologies, NASA is now learning to grow vegetables and fruits on the International Space Station (ISS). But it's not easy growing plants with less gravity than is found on Earth.
Seeds tend to move around in zero-gravity and water clumps up. Remember, you can't pour a glass of water in space. There is also the need to be frugal when it comes to space - we mean the size of the garden.
ASA Image: ISS021-E-006274 A close-up view of the Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF) SPACE SEED...
ASA Image: ISS021-E-006274 A close-up view of the Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF) SPACE SEED experiment is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 21 crew member in the Kibo laboratory on the International Space Station. ISS021-E-006274 A close-up view of the Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF) SPACE SEED experiment is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 21 crew member in the Kibo laboratory on the International Space Station.
NASA
Differences in lighting, temperature and even the medium used to grow the seeds had to be tested. And because of the weight of soil, NASA has been looking at methods like hydroponics and aeroponics. Hydroponics involves delivering water and nutrients to plant roots using liquid solutions, and with aeroponics, plants are grown in a misty air environment.
The first edible veggie is grown in space
The first portable growing box for space, equipped with LED lights, called Veggie, was tested at the orbiting outpost in 2014. After a few problems were worked out, astronauts got their first taste of NASA-approved space-grown lettuce in 2015. Now, there are two Veggie boxes and a third called the Advanced Plant Habitat.
A picture of Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage growing in a NASA Veggie unit.  Image dated February 17  2...
A picture of Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage growing in a NASA Veggie unit. Image dated February 17, 2017.
ISS Expedition 50 member
Since NASA's first attempts using the Veggie, a number of green leafy vegetables, as well as zinnias and a sunflower, have been grown successfully on the ISS. In 2018 the Veggie-3 experiment was tested with plant pillows and root mats. One of the goals is to grow food for crew consumption. Crops tested at this time include cabbage, lettuce, and mizuna.
Today, fruits and vegetables that can be safely stored at room temperature are eaten on space flights. Astronauts also have a greater variety of main courses to choose from, and many request personalized menus from lists of available foods including items like fruit salad and spaghetti.
But even with all the variety of foods available for bringing on board the ISS, there is still the need for growing vegetables and fruits on space flights. And now that we are getting good at growing green, leafy vegetables, it was time to experiment with growing a fruiting plant.
Assorted bags of snack food and dehydrated food  as served on the ISS.
Assorted bags of snack food and dehydrated food, as served on the ISS.
NASA
The New Mexico Chile
Jacob Torres is part of a team of 20 people at NASA in Florida, working on a way to grow vegetables on board the ISS. Torres is originally from the Espanola Valley in New Mexico. When Torres arrived at NASA in 2018 for an internship, scientists were exploring the possibility of growing Hatch peppers, a New Mexico chile.
Torres suggested that NASA look at the state's Española pepper instead. There was a good reason for the suggestion. Hatch peppers are grown in the deserts of New Mexico, while the Española pepper grows at higher elevations and has a shorter growth period. Tosses thought they would be better for growing in space.
After experimenting with growing the Española peppers here on Earth under simulated space conditions, the little peppers are ready to be sent off to the ISS sometime between November and January 2020. If successful, the Española pepper would be the first fruiting plant - a flowering plant that grows a seed pod to procreate -- to be grown at the International Space Station.
New Mexico chiles dried on the plant in Mesilla  New Mexico  2016.
New Mexico chiles dried on the plant in Mesilla, New Mexico, 2016.
Dicklyon
“What an honor, what a privilege, and what a great way to represent the Espanola Valley,” said Victor Romero from the Espanola Valley Chamber of Commerce. Locals are thrilled with the publicity. “I think it’s going to open a lot of doors, you know? Hopefully, it grows there in space, and I think everyone will jump into the growing of the chile,” said chile farmer Fidel Martinez.
The española is an old chile pepper, has a slightly stronger pungent and bitter flavor and matures early to red, first grown by the Spanish settlers in the San Juan Valley, near modern-day Española, New Mexico. The Española Improved is a hybrid of the Sandia and Española, and provides Española's taste and early maturation, with a better yield, and larger peppers.
More about NASA, Espaola pepper, fruiting plants, New Mexico chile, International Space Station
 
Latest News
Top News