Many American homes have long relied on airtight plastic containers to keep their food fresh. Now, an iconic manufacturer of household plasticware is lending its expertise to NASA so astronauts get fresh and healthier food in space.
Supplementing Astronauts' Diet With Fresh Produce
Amid plans to send humans to planet Mars, scientists acknowledge the importance of growing plants and consuming fresh foods for astronauts in deep space missions.
Since 2015, the U.S. space agency has supplemented the diets of astronauts working at the International Space Station with fresh greens grown in the orbiting laboratory's Vegetable Production System, also known as Veggie.
"There is evidence that supports fresh foods, such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants. Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people's moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space," said NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler.
Challenges In Growing Food In Space
One of the challenges astronauts encounter with Veggie has been about keeping the plants properly watered.
The Veggie system involves astronauts pushing water into each plant pillow using a syringe. Some crops that were grown in the Veggie system using pillows did better than the others because the plants did not receive equal amounts of water and oxygen.
Tupperware Brands Corporation, which has been producing and marketing food storage products for decades, has lent its design expertise for a new plant growing system aimed to address this problem, Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System, or PONDS,
PONDS was initially designed and prototyped by NASA researcher scientist Howard Levine, but the project was handed to private spaceflight services firm Techshot last year to further certify the demonstration unit that will be used on the ISS.
Techshot in turn reached out to Tupperware for help in creating a new system that could provide an alternative to the plant pillows used in the Veggie system.
Veggie project manager Nicole Dufour, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, explained that PONDS units have features designed to mitigate the effects of low gravity in space on the distribution of water, boost the availability of oxygen, and provide enough room for root zone growth.
The new system requires less maintenance from the crew and uses an approach that can facilitate consistent seed germination and the development of seedlings into mature plants.
"Tupperware brings a wealth of innovative design and knowledge of plastics to this project," said Techshot's PONDS project manager Dave Reed.