This Salad Is Outta This World: Astronauts Eat Greens Grown In Space : The Salt Farming plants in space may prove critical for future deep space travel. On Monday NASA announced it had mastered romaine lettuce. "That's awesome, tastes good," astronaut Kjell Lindgren declared.
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This Salad Is Outta This World: Astronauts Eat Greens Grown In Space

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This Salad Is Outta This World: Astronauts Eat Greens Grown In Space

This Salad Is Outta This World: Astronauts Eat Greens Grown In Space

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, aboard the International Space Station, astronauts got a rare treat - fresh lettuce.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We're going to get started with the harvesting here in just a couple of minutes. And then right after that, we'll have lunch.

BLOCK: NASA broadcast that space salad meal live. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: In space, food is freeze-dried, prepackaged and, frankly, not always very tasty, which is where Trent Smith comes in.

TRENT SMITH: I am the Veggie project manager. I work here at NASA Kennedy Space Center.

BRUMFIEL: The Veggie project has just one goal - to bring salad to space.

SMITH: It's just one of those things that we have to learn if we're actually going to step into the solar system and go to Mars. You know, how will you grow your plants?

BRUMFIEL: It turns out it's not as simple as you'd think. On Earth, gravity pulls water down towards the roots. But in space...

SMITH: Getting that balance of water right for the root zone is extremely difficult in microgravity just because of the way water behaves.

BRUMFIEL: It can ball up in a corner, leaving roots high and dry. Smith's team has a solution, though - a pillow of clay, air and water that lets the roots spread out in zero Gs. But it doesn't end there. Plants need air to breathe, but they don't move. On Earth, winds keep fresh air coming. In the space station, there is no wind.

SMITH: And it's not very healthy, so we have fans that draw in fresh cabin air.

BRUMFIEL: Finally, there's the issue of light. The space station is whipping around the Earth fast.

SMITH: Every 90 minutes is a new sunrise, so it's very different, you know, and for a plant, that would be extremely confusing.

BRUMFIEL: The Veggie team added some artificial lights to keep the orbiting lettuce on an Earthly schedule. The system took years for engineers to develop, but growing today's salad on the space station didn't take long at all.

SMITH: July 8 it started. Today is 33 days of growth, and the plants were just fantastic - I mean, big, large leaves.

BRUMFIEL: The lettuce was ready. The astronauts were hungry. And this morning, there was just one question left.

SMITH: We'd been wondering, the Veggie team, if they were going to do a teriyaki chicken wrap, if they were going to do salad dressing, if they had salad dressing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I've got some extra virgin olive oil and some Italian balsamic vinegar.

BRUMFIEL: The astronauts went with a simple dressing, and the space salad tasted out of this world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: That's awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yep, tastes good.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah. I have that (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Kind of like arugula.

BRUMFIEL: This lettuce could be just the tip of the iceberg. There's plans for cabbage, cherry tomatoes and even potatoes as we leaf into the final frontier.

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BRUMFIEL: Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.

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