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ISS Astronauts Harvest And Eat Space-Grown Red Romaine Lettuce: Here's Why Veggie Is Big Deal

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The Veggie experiment carried out onboard the International space Station (ISS) was a tasty success as astronauts ate food grown in space for the first time in history. This event could be an important step toward a human mission to Mars. 

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren, along with JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui took part in the historic snack. The makeshift space salad was eaten in the Columbus module of the space station. At 12:46 EDT, three members of the crew all took their first bites at the same time. 

Red romaine lettuce was the first food grown in space ever consumed. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar was added to the produce for flavor. 

"It's awesome," Lindgren stated after taking his first taste of lettuce grown in space. The event was simulcast on the World Wide Web, on NASA TV. 

Prior to the culmination of the edible experiment, Kelly talked about how learning how to grow food in space is critical to a mission to Mars. By producing food in space, astronauts will be able to become more self-sufficient, reducing the need for resupply missions from Earth to a Mars colony. 

The lettuce was planted by astronaut Steve Swanson in May 2014. The plants then grew in the Veg-1 experiment aboard the orbiting outpost. 

"Since soil would float away in space, the seeds were placed in 'pillows' and fed by water systems similar to hydroponics under a grow light. The lettuce not eaten will be sent back down to Earth for testing to see how it endured in the microgravity environment," John Wenz wrote for Popular Mechanics

Red and blue lights were employed in the experiment to assist in plant growth, and green lights were added to make the foods look more attractive to humans. 

Just as vegetables should be rinsed before consumption, the astronauts cleaned their leaves as well. However, instead of water, the produce was cleansed in a citrus-based acid wash. 

Mission planners hope this experiment could lead the way to healthy nutrition for astronauts due to spending years in the microgravity environment of space. 

"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 Ray Wheeler, from the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). 

Three cosmonauts were on a spacewalk when the trio took the historic first bite. The diners set aside enough lettuce for their Russian compatriots to eat when they returned to the craft.

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