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Space jam: ISS astronauts set to taste ‘outredgeous’ food grown in space

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly

 

Washington: In a pioneering feat that will help astronauts on long-duration space missions like Mars, the crew members on board the International Space Station (ISS) are set to eat fresh food grown in the microgravity environment of space for the first time.

Expedition 44 crew members, including NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, are ready to sample the fruits of their labor after harvesting a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the “veggie plant” growth system on the orbiting laboratory.

The astronauts will clean the leafy greens with citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes before consuming them.

They will eat half of the space bounty, setting aside the other half to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis.

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 Dr Ray Wheeler, head of advanced life support activities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

NASA’s plant experiment, called Veg-01, is being used to study the in-orbit function and performance of the plant growth facility and its rooting “pillows” which contain the seeds.

The first “pillows” were activated, watered and cared for by Expedition 39 flight engineer Steve Swanson in May 2014.

After 33 days of growth, the plants were harvested and returned to Earth in October 2014.

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the plants underwent food safety analysis.

The second “Veg-01 plant pillows” were activated by Kelly on July 8 and grew again for 33 days before being harvested.

The seeds had been on the station for 15 months before being activated.

The veggie unit features a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation.

“Using LED lights to grow plants was an idea that originated with NASA as far back as the late 1990s,” Dr Wheeler noted.

The purple/pinkish hue surrounding the plants is the result of a combination of the red and blue lights which by design emit more light than the green LEDs.

Green LEDS were added so the plants look like edible food rather than weird purple plants.

Besides the nutritional benefits, growing fresh produce in space may also provide a psychological benefit to astronauts.

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,” informed Dr Gioia Massa, payload scientist for Veggie system at Kennedy.

The Veggie unit can also be used by astronauts for recreational gardening activities during deeper space missions.

(IANS)

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NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars

It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like the way a human would drill into a wall at home

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NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars
NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars. Pixabay

After a mechanical problem took NASA Mars rover Curiosity’s drill offline in December 2016, it has now successfully tested a new drilling method on the Red Planet, making a 50-millimetre deep hole in a target called “Duluth”, NASA has said.

Engineers working with the Curiosity Mars rover have been hard at work testing a new way for the rover to drill rocks and extract powder from them.

On May 20, that effort produced the first drilled sample on Mars in more than a year, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new technique, called Feed Extended Drilling, keeps the drill’s bit extended out past two stabiliser posts that were originally used to steady the drill against Martian rocks.

It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like the way a human would drill into a wall at home.

“The team used tremendous ingenuity to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Manager Steve Lee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Representational image.
Representational image. Pixabay

“Those are two vital inches of innovation from 60 million miles away. We’re thrilled that the result was so successful,” Lee said.

Drilling is a vitally important part of Curiosity’s capabilities to study Mars.

Inside the rover are two laboratories that are able to conduct chemical and mineralogical analyses of rock and soil samples.

The samples are acquired from Gale Crater, which the rover has been exploring since 2012.

“We’ve been developing this new drilling technique for over a year, but our job isn’t done once a sample has been collected on Mars,” said JPL’s Tom Green, a systems engineer who helped develop and test Curiosity’s new drilling method.

Also Read: NASA Probe to ‘Touch’ the Sun Will Carry 1.1 mn Names

“With each new test, we closely examine the data to look for improvements we can make and then head back to our test bed to iterate on the process.”

There’s also the next step to work on — delivering the rock sample from the drill bit to the two laboratories inside the rover.

As soon as this Friday, the Curiosity team will test a new process for delivering samples into the rover’s laboratories, NASA said. (IANS)