Story at a glance

  • Crew members on the International Space Station have kicked off an experiment to grow Hatch chile pepper seeds aboard the orbiting laboratory.
  • If successful, it’ll be the first time astronauts cultivated peppers on the station from seeds to maturity.
  • While astronauts have previously harvested vegetables such as lettuce and radishes, the experiment is one of the most complex plant projects on the ISS to date due to the long germination and growing times.

Astronauts are now growing red and green chile peppers on board the International Space Station (ISS), an experiment the space agency says is the first of its kind. 

The Hatch chile pepper seeds arrived at the space station in June aboard a SpaceX commercial resupply services mission. 

NASA announced last week astronaut Shane Kimbrough, a flight engineer who launched to the ISS in April and has experience growing plants on the orbiting laboratory, kicked off the experiment by inserting 48 seeds into the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH). 

A team with Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Research and Technology programs planted the seeds in a device called a science carrier that slots into the APH. 

“The APH is the largest plant growth facility on the space station and has 180 sensors and controls for monitoring plant growth and the environment,” Nicole Dufour, the experiment’s project manager, said in a statement. 

“It is a diverse growth chamber, and it allows us to help control the experiment from Kennedy, reducing the time astronauts spend tending to the crops,” Dufour said. 


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It will take the peppers about four months to grow before they can be harvested and eaten. If successful, it’ll be the first time astronauts cultivated peppers on the station from seeds to maturity. The plan is for the crew to eat some and send the rest back to Earth for analysis. 

While astronauts have previously harvested vegetables such as lettuce and radishes, the experiment is one of the most complex plant projects on the ISS to date due to the long germination and growing times. 

“We have previously tested flowering to increase the chance for a successful harvest because astronauts will have to pollinate the peppers to grow fruit,” Matt Romeyn, principal investigator for the experiment, said in a statement. 

Researchers hope the crop will help supplement astronauts' diets on future missions. Crew members also may prefer spicy or seasoned foods as they can temporarily lose their sense of taste or smell after living in microgravity, NASA says. 


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Published on Jul 19, 2021