When future astronaut crews begin living and working at more distant destinations in space, they will need to take a little of the Earth with them to help them breathe and allow them to eat their vegetables.
During my visit to NASA this August, I met Dr. Gioia Massa, a life science project scientist and deputy project scientist on NASA’s vegetable production system (VEGGIE) project for the International Space Station (ISS). The project was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin, which is now Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC).
The reason for growing food in space is not what you would first imagine. Astronauts will still continue to eat NASA prepared foods on the ISS, similar to the freeze-dried ones most of us are familiar with, except they have greatly improved the quality. Growing food on the ISS has multiple benefits. When an astronaut can put a fresh piece of lettuce or another vegetable as a supplement into their prepared food, it is very positive psychologically to have something familiar from Earth. In the future, maybe oxygen can be generated via plants in such an enclosed environment, and this is also a tool for relaxation and recreation for the astronauts.