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Chilli Peppers grown in space: Astronauts harvest the first produce in zero gravity

Humans will face major challenges supplying food to astronauts on the Moon in the coming decade, and hopefully also on Mars once they reach Mars. Resupply missions may take weeks or months. Space travel may pose unexpected challenges. Food can be grown in space, which is what scientists have been working on. A major step forward has just occurred. In zero gravity, astronauts have cultivated the first batch of chilli pepper. There is no doubt that farming on an alien surface, which has remained inhospitable for millions of years, is the toughest challenge.

As part of one of the most challenging experiments on the International Space Station (ISS), astronaut Mark T Vande Hei picked up the first batch grown as part of the Plant Habitat-04 study. Red and green chilli grown in space were eaten by the astronauts, and the remaining chilli will be brought back to Earth for further analysis. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), this plant experiment is one of the most complex to date on the station due to its lengthy germination and growing time.

WHY CHILLI PEPPERS?
Nasa chose chilli peppers for its experiment as they contain key nutrients and are a good source of Vitamin C. The fruit is self-pollinating, making it easy to grow. Plants only need to be agitated. NASA stated that chillis are easy to handle in microgravity and a pick-and-eat crop that does not need cooking or complex processing. Astronauts can also eat it because it has low microbial levels.

‘Scientists spent two years evaluating more than two dozen pepper varieties from around the world to cultivate in space, but it was not easy. This pepper adapted well to controlled environment agriculture, and beat out other Hatch pepper cultivars,’ the agency said in a statement. The Hatch chilli pepper is a generic name for several different varieties of green chilli pepper from Hatch, New Mexico.

 GROWING IN SPACE
Scientists planted 48 pepper seeds in a science carrier that contained baked clay for roots to grow in as well as a controlled release fertilizer formulated for peppers. On SpaceX’s 23rd cargo resupply mission, the science carrier was launched to the ISS and fitted into the plant habitat. Scientists on the ground and astronauts in space have been monitoring the experiment since July 12, 2021.

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The Kennedy Space Center instructed APH to run its fans at varying speeds in microgravity to create a gentle breeze that would agitate the flowers and encourage pollen transfer. Moreover, the astronauts also performed hand pollination of the chilli flowers, following which the fruits formed. Nasa said the experiment will demonstrate how existing pepper varieties can be used in controlled environments to discover psychological benefits.

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