NASA’s plant experiment, which involved growing and harvesting chili peppers in space, broke the record for feeding astronauts with crops grown in space.
This experiment also went down in history as the longest running on the International Space Station (ISS).
This was the second time chili peppers were grown in space. In November, Insider’s Shinead Baker reported that this was the first time the ISS crew had used them in tacos, along with beef and fajita vegetables.
Matt Romijn, principal investigator for the pepper experiment, told Insider on Friday that the crop group at NASA was not expecting to hit two records.
Harvesting chili peppers has been slightly delayed when compared to earth trials, Romaine said. This meant that the experiment at the station could be extended by another 17 days.
The pepper seeds at the center of the Plant Habitat-04 experiment (PH-04) grew for four months before being harvested in October.
According to Romaine, the timetable “allowed us to go beyond the transition from Crew 2 astronauts to Crew 3 astronauts, which allowed more astronauts to have the opportunity to taste pepper.”
In May, Romijn previously spoke with Insider about how growing vegetables in space helps astronauts stay healthy.
In a later experiment, the peppers were originally expected to grow within 120 days, Romaine added. However, they actually grew over a period of 137 days, making this the longest experiment in space. The previous longest-running experiment was in 2016, when “zinnia flowers” were grown for 90 days, Romijn told Insider.
In a press release, Romijn explained the process: “PH-04 has made significant advances in modern technology for growing space crops.”
The experiment involved obtaining a field variety of Hatch chili peppers from New Mexico, shrinking it to fit in the plant’s habitat, and figuring out how to productively grow the first recognized fruit-bearing crop in space. “It was all done in a couple of years,” he added.
Tacos seem to be the most popular food among astronauts in space since the chili harvest. Astronaut Kayla Barron recently posted on Facebook and Instagram that the team ate fresh peppers as part of a taco night.
“Thanks to [pepper emoji]The taco night was a huge success. 10/10 recommend. Thanks to Mark for doing the prep work… the spice level was no joke, ”Barron said.
The pepper was hot, according to Romaine. “All indications are that some of the fruits were spicier, which is not surprising given the unknown effect that microgravity could have on the capsaicin levels in peppers,” he said.
Following the success of the PH-04 experiment, the agency said the next crop the team at Kennedy Space Center plans to grow will include dwarf tomatoes and testing for new types of leafy greens.
“We started this experiment knowing that growing pepper in microgravity would be challenging, but this experiment was a hugely successful demonstration that we were on the right track in growing space crops,” Romijn said.
He added that the goal of these experiments is to provide viable and sustainable crop production for future long-term missions to the Moon and ultimately Mars.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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