If you’re a fan of the movie The Martian, in which Matt Damon’s tenuous little potato crop must sustain him for his solitary years on Mars, then you know how high-stakes and dramatic farming can suddenly become when taken to far-flung reaches of our solar system. Minus the inconvenience of being lost on a foreign planet, that’s exactly what’s happening aboard the International Space Station right now: astronauts are growing and harvesting fresh radishes in space, the latest crop to succeed in a zero gravity environment.
CNN reports that NASA flight engineer Kate Rubins harvested 20 radish plants this week from the space station’s Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), an LED-lit growth chamber that has already fostered lettuce, cabbage, wheat, and lentils. As the variety of plants grown in space continues to increase, it’s an exciting indicator that long-term missions to space and other planets might become more feasible.
“It’s a privilege to help lead a team that is paving the way to the future of space crop production for NASA’s exploration efforts,” said APH program manager Nicole Dufour in a press release about the radish crop. “I’ve worked on APH since the beginning, and each new crop that we’re able to grow brings me great joy because what we learn from them will help NASA send astronauts to Mars and bring them back safely.”
This must also be a great week for professor and lead investigator Karl Hasenstein, who according to the press release has been conducting plant experiments with NASA since 1995 (!!). To someone who’s dedicated more than a quarter century to zero-gravity growing environments, radishes are an especially illuminating crop.
“Radishes provide great research possibilities by virtue of their sensitive bulb formation,” Hasenstein said. “We can grow 20 plants in the APH, analyze CO2 effects, and mineral acquisition and distribution.”
Missions to the moon and Mars are even more of a looming reality now, thanks to these humble radishes. Now, for the astronauts’ sake, we need to learn how to dress them up with garlic or some nice brown butter in zero-G, too. Does the space station have a good roasting pan?