After popularizing such legendary foods as astronaut ice cream and Tang, NASA has once again set a high bar for outer space dining: an orbital Taco Night! A crew on the ISS recently harvested peppers grown entirely on the station, recorded data about the crop, and then ate a couple – for science. The peppers were all the more delicious as they represented the only fresh food the astronauts would have for the duration of their mission.
The project is cited as one of the most complicated space-set plant growing attempts to date, with the astronauts studying plant-microbe interactions since the peppers were planted in July. An important aspect of the study was an assessment of the peppers’ flavours and textures – naturally, shown to the best advantage in Tex-Mex cuisine. From NASA:
“This investigation is part of ongoing efforts to establish ways to grow food crops on long-duration space missions. It contributes to future production of crops in space by examining the reliability of the APH environmental control systems, LED lighting system, sensor-controlled water delivery system, and data downlink and control capabilities. […]
Across both harvests, 20 total peppers are wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). Eight total peppers (one from each plant during both harvests) are collected for microbial analysis, and three peppers from each plant during the second harvest (12 total) are collected for nutritional analysis. Four additional peppers collected during the second harvest are provided to the crew for palatability review.”
Astronaut Megan McArthur tweeted her enjoyment of the tacos filled with “fajita beef, rehydrated tomatoes and artichokes, and HATCH CHILE!” as she dug in on October 29. McArthur’s crew is about to return to Earth, swapping with another who will accomplish the second pepper harvest later this month. I hope they get plenty of data in addition to piles of peppers – when I take that civilian spaceflight to my Martian vacation in 2050, I look forward to a fresh, spicy in-flight meal!