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Resist the urge to make a Five Little Peppers and How They Grew pun. “Astronauts aboard the International Space Station had the pleasure of dining on space tacos last weekend: tacos topped with green chili that was actually grown in space. As part of NASA’s Plant Habitat-04 investigation, scientists began growing hatch chile — a type of pepper found in New Mexico’s Hatch Valley — aboard the ISS in July in an effort to understand more about “plant-microbe interactions” in space,” NASA said.

Growing vegetables and other plants in outer space has been an important trope in science fiction for generations. Now, at long last, science fiction becomes reality.

While plant-miceobe interactions are important from a botanical point of view, but from a practical point of view,. hydroponics are essential. If Elon Musk is right in saying, “I think this is fundamentally important for ensuring the long-term survival of life as we know it, to be a multi-planet species,” then growing vegetables in space will be a matter of life and death.

Astronauts have grown other crops, such as lettuce and radishes, in space before. But peppers are more difficult to grow in space because they take a relatively long time to germinate and bear fruit.

Those of us who grew up reading Heinlein’s juveniles took it for granted that hydroponics would be a major factor in space exploration. Astronauts can’t live on Tang alone. Aboard the Iinternational Space Station, astronauts recently ate tacos topped with green chiles that had been grown in space, “As part of NASA’s Plant Habitat-04 investigation, scientists began growing hatch chile — a type of pepper found in New Mexico’s Hatch Valley — aboard the ISS in July in an effort to understand more about “plant-microbe interactions” in space, NASA said.

If space exploration is to be practical in the long run, astronauts will need to produce their own food. Luckily tofu is not thar difficult to make, and it is an excellent source of protein. Soybeans are far more practical to grow in a hydroponics lab than raising chicken or cattle.

Astronaut Shane Kimbrough checking the prpgress of chile plants {image via NASA}

It’s a lesser-known fact that stuff just doesn’t taste all that good in space. The flavor of foods requires a certain amount of moisture in the air so that our olfactory glands can work, and smell is an important part of how food tastes. Eating food in space is a bit like eating food on Earth while nursing a cold. These peppers might seem like a bit of overkill on the flavor aspect of the tacos they made to us, but in practice, to the astronaughts aboard the I.S.S., they were probably just fine.

These tacos and their ISS-grown chili peppers are a necessary first step in extraterresterrial cuisine, but only a first step. There is much more to do in this regard, and the space station provides the perfect environment in which to conduct these sorts of experiments.

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Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.

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