ISS Tomatoes Experiment Accidentally Extended18th Dec 2023
Tons of data are generated by the ISS all the time. Agricultural experiments are an important part of that data collection, as food is an essential ingredient in the future of space travel. Growing food on the ISS has been an important direction, with obvious potential benefits for the future of space exploration. Humans need to know if they can grow things in these conditions, and what better experiment than growing a tomatoes?
Frank Rubio, an astronaut from NASA, recently shared a story of two tomatoes he “lost contact” with while harvesting for the XROOTS test on the ISS in 2022. The XROOTs (eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System) was an experiment using hydroponic and aeroponic methods in an attempt to grow plant systems off-planet.
The ISS recently had its 25th anniversary and during the celebration, Expedition 70’s current crew members found the tomatoes, almost a year after they were lost, and interestingly there was no visible fungus or microbial growth, just a bit of discoloration.
The original experiment by Rubio was also accompanied by a peeling experiment to further understand what this entailed. The experiment grew dwarf tomatoes and studied light quality and fertiliser being used in production, plus the taste acceptability (yes, the crew did the taste tests).
Those leftover tomatoes have been discarded now, but there will be further experiments of a similar ilk. Plant Habitat-03 is one of the first multi-generational plant studies and this will help to understand if there is the capacity to grow numerous generations of crops, providing nutrition for future missions.
As well as the ability to provide sustenance, other benefits to these experiments include the fact that gardening can have psychological benefits. Crews can spend a long time on their own and activities that are fulfilling, like gardening and tending to crops, can be excellent for mental health and quality of life.
The work being carried out now exploring plant life and growth methods in space can help to improve the chances of future space exploration, but also understanding more about growth methods on Earth.