Space is about to get spicy. The American space agency, NASA, is planning to blast New Mexico chile pepper plants out of the Earth’s atmosphere in March 2020 and grow the fruiting blooms on the International Space Station. Researchers hope it will lead to improved meals for astronauts, as well as a deeper understanding of how to someday grow food on the moon and Mars.
The “Improved Española” breed of New Mexico chile plants will be the first fruit Americans grow aboard the space station. NASA astronauts in 2015 ate lettuce grown in space for the first time, and a zinnia bloomed on the space station in 2016. But Russians were the first to grow produce on the ISS, beginning with peas in 2003, before Americans began extraterrestrial gardening activities.
These specific peppers were chosen for a number of reasons. ”We were…looking for varieties that don’t grow too tall, and yet are very productive in the controlled environments that we would be using in space,” NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler told the Rio Grande Sun newspaper. “The astronauts have often expressed a desire for more spicy and flavorful foods, and so having a bit of hot flavor also seemed to be a good thing. Plus, many peppers are very high in vitamin C, which is important for space diets.”
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