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ISS Astronauts Set To Sample Space-Grown Red Romaine Lettuce

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The search for life in another planet has long been the pursuit of many astronomers. While there are high possibilities of life forms outside our planet, spacemen have gone on expeditions and returned but have not yet brought with them any proof of life beyond the Earth.

The latest experiment may just add to the huge possibility of life outside the Earth. Even without the proof of aliens, scientists found signs of life when they grew leafy greens - or reds - harvested from space.

For the first time, the International Space Station (ISS) is set to sample fresh red romaine lettuce grown in the microgravity environment of their orbiting laboratory.

In the NASA experiment Veg-01, researchers are assessing the in-orbit function and performance of the plant-growing facility as well as its rooting "pillows" containing the seeds. Steve Swanson, Expedition 39 flight engineer, activated, watered and continuously cared for the first "pillows" in May last year - as in the normal on-Earth plant growth system.

Harvest time occurred after 33 days of growth; the plants were brought back to Earth in October 2014 and were analyzed in Florida for food safety by NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

The second batch of Veg-01 "pillows" was activated on July 8 by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, 15 months after the seeds were kept at the station. Again, the "pillows" were watered and cared for, for another 33 days before harvesting time.

According to Dr. Ray Wheeler, Kennedy's Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office lead, the idea of LED lights in growing plants originated with NASA about two decades ago during the 90s. The latest harvested plants have a purplish-pinkish blue surrounding color which resulted from the red and blue light emitted by the LEDs.

Green LEDs emit less light compared to red and blue LEDs; however, to make the veggies appear more appetizing, the researchers doubled the amount of green LED light.

Members of Expedition 44 are now ready to eat the fruits - or veggies - of their labor, the plants will be sanitized with food-safe citric acid. Half of the harvest will be set aside for further analysis, while the other half will go straight into the space veggie-hungry stomachs of the researchers. 

Photo: Life in Monrovla | Flickr

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