WATCH: Three astronauts aboard the International Space Station on Monday took their first bites of space-grown lettuce.
TORONTO – Our parents have always told us to eat our vegetables, but when you’re an astronaut living in space, it’s not that easy.
READ MORE: Why are we trying to get to Mars?
Though the menu has definitely improved since the early days of space travel, astronauts are still consuming packaged foods for the most part. But if we’re going to live on Mars one day, we’re going to have to figure out how to grow our own food off-Earth.
If we’re going to live on Mars one day, we’re going to have to find ways of growing our own food. NASA
If we’re going to live on Mars one day, we’re going to have to find ways of growing our own food.
NASA tells Congress agency needs to pay Russians $490 million to get astronauts to ISS
NASA picks 4 astronauts to fly first commercial space missions
WATCH: SpaceX rocket explodes while heading to space station
Enter the “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce, the historic first vegetable grown in space, part of the “Veggie” or Veg-01 program, which astronauts are eating for the first time Monday.
So how do you grow food in space with no sunlight?
The Veggie units are collapsible and expandable, and use a flat panel light bank that uses red, blue and green LEDs. The seeds are placed in a “pillow” that helps root them (since there is no up or down in low-earth gravity).
Red and blue light is used to stimulate planet growth. The green light is more of a psychological addition —; this way the plants actually look like the green leafy foods we grow on Earth and not some weird purple-ish alien food.
Salad anyone? Seen here is the “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system on board the International Space Station. NASA
Salad anyone? Seen here is the “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system on board the International Space Station.
The idea of using LED lights to grow plants isn’t a new one: it’s something that NASA has considered since the 1990s.
It’s not like the astronauts are guinea pigs for the Veggie system: experiments were conducted in Arizona before the first pillows were activated on the station in May 2014. After 33 days in space, the plants were harvested and returned to Earth in October where they were analyzed.
These second pillows —; which were on the station for 15 months —; were activated on July 8 and once again grew for 33 days.
READ MORE: Buzz Aldrin on why Mars is our future and why we should leave people there
And just like here on Earth, the veggies will be “washed” before being consumed. But instead of putting the lettuce under a tap, the astronauts will use citric acid-based, food-safe sanitizing wipes to clean them.
WATCH: How NASA plans to grow veggies in space
Eating healthy takes on a whole other meaning in 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, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at the Kennedy Space Center.
But there are other important reasons to be able to grow food in space —; or on Mars. There is also a psychological benefit.
“The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits. I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario,” said Gioia Massa, the NASA payload scientist for Veggie at Kennedy.