Astronauts Use LEDs in Space:
Space food has come a long way since the early days of space exploration decades ago. Then, astronauts like John Glenn did not find much enjoyment from eating freeze dried food powders and gel-like foods that were pushed out of a tube like toothpaste. Now, technology is making it possible that astronauts actually grow some of their own food during space flight. Fruits and vegetables are on the menu!
NASA scientists and astronauts continue to refine methods for using LEDs in space to grow plants. Right now, the goal is to grow enough food to sustain astronauts on long voyages through space, as well as help mankind move towards colonizing other planets like Mars. Growing vegetables using LEDs is one practice being developed to make this vision reality.
Currently, astronauts and scientists are working to develop and analyze vegetation that was grown via LEDs aboard the International Space Station. Lettuce is just one of the plants that was efficiently grown under the LEDs, and although the lettuce does not provide much by the way of vitamins and nutrition, astronauts were quite happy to pour some olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the lettuce leaves and experience a little taste of home.
It has been reported that the lettuce grown under the LEDs tastes good and reminds astronauts of meals eaten at home. This sense and feeling of “home” is a very positive benefit that those living in the isolation of space experience given the plants and vegetables. LED technology not only helps to grow plants and vegetables efficiently in space, but the yields also give astronauts a better connection to the home they left behind. This variable might be as beneficial as the sustenance the LEDs work to produce.
In space on the International Space Station, the lettuce was grown in a small grow area called The Vegetable Production System. The system is able to grow and produce lettuce yield in just over one month. It takes approximately 33 days to grow the lettuce in The Vegetable Production System, but the reward was worth the wait. American astronaut Scott Kelly is currently working in space to grow, harvest and eat the lettuce and according to Kelly, the lettuce tasted better that the romaine he was used to eating back on earth! The plan was to eat about half of what was harvested in space, which they did, and then freeze the rest of the lettuce yield to bring back to earth for additional testing. One goal that NASA will work on is figuring out a way to grow the lettuce more efficiently while producing a greater yield.