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Astronauts harvest space crops

Astronauts harvest space crops

NASA astronauts collected 20 radishes aboard the International Space Station

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Nearly 253 miles (408km) away from Earth, astronauts harvested a vegetable crop.

Kate Rubins, a NASA astronaut, collected 20 mature radish plants from the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) located aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

She placed them in cold storage and the radishes will return to Earth in 2021.

The APH, about the size of mini fridge, helps astronauts identify what plants can be grown successfully in space and in turn provide food for astronauts while in space.

Researchers at the Kennedy Space Center monitored the plants and provided them with the necessary moisture levels and regulated the temperatures inside the APH.

Scientists will examine the radishes for plant material makeup.

“Radishes provide great research possibilities by virtue of their sensitive bulb formation,” Karl Hasenstein, a professor in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s biology department, said in a statement. “We can grow 20 plants in the APH, analyze CO2 effects, and mineral acquisition and distribution.”

Hasenstein has been involved with NASA experiments since 1995.

The astronauts plan to produce a second radish crop while on board the ISS.

In addition, radishes are growing inside an ISS environmental simulator on Earth. These plants will be harvested on Dec. 15.

Scientists will examine both radish crops produced in space and the crop grown in the simulator for comparison.

With future plans to have astronauts visit the moon and Mars, ensuring the explorers have enough food to sustain them on their missions is paramount.

“I’ve worked on APH since (2017), 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,” Nicole Dufour, NASA’s APH program manager at the Kennedy Space Center, said in a statement.

Radishes aren’t the first items to be produced aboard the ISS.

Between 2014 and 2016, astronauts harvested red and green romaine lettuce, Chinese cabbage, mustard and Russian kale.

And in 2019, an Israeli food company, a Russian 3D bioprinting organization and U.S. companies worked together to produce real beef steaks in space.

The experiment used cells and replicated a cow’s muscle tissue regeneration process.

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