Dwarf tomato seeds will be launched to the ISS aboard SpaceX’s next resupply flight

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When SpaceX’s 26th commercial resupply mission launches Tuesday, it will deliver a plethora of supplies, a pair of new solar panels, dwarf tomato seeds and a series of science experiments to the International Space Station.

The mission will also deliver Thanksgiving-style ice cream and treats, including spicy green beans, cran-apple desserts, pumpkin pie, and candy corn, to the space station crew.

The Dragon spacecraft is expected to lift off with its 7,700 pounds (3,493 kilograms) of payload from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 3:54 p.m. ET, with live coverage available on NASA’s website starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.

The International Space Station Roll Out Solar Arrays, or iROSAs, will be installed outside the floating lab during spacewalks scheduled for Nov. 29 and Dec. 3. The solar panels will give the space station a power boost.

The cargo contains a number of health-related items, such as the Moon Microscope kit. The hand-held portable microscope allows astronauts to collect and transmit images of blood samples to flight surgeons on the ground for diagnosis and treatment.

Nutrients are an important part of maintaining good health in space. But there is a shortage of fresh produce on the space station compared to the prepackaged meals astronauts eat during their six-month stay in low Earth orbit.

“It’s fairly important to our exploration goals at NASA to not only provide nutrition to the crew, but also to consider different types of plants as sources of nutrients that we would have a hard time sustaining during the long journeys between distant destinations like Mars, and so on. said Kirt Costello, chief scientist at NASA’s International Space Station Program and deputy manager of the ISS Research Integration Office.

Astronauts have grown and tasted different varieties of lettuce, radishes and peppers on the International Space Station. Now the crew members can add some dwarf tomatoes – specifically Red Robin tomatoes – to their list of space-grown salad ingredients.

The experiment, known as Pick-and-Eat Salad-Crop Productivity, Nutritional Value, and Acceptability to Supplement the ISS Food System, is part of an effort to provide continuous production of fresh food in space.

The dwarf tomato seeds will be grown under two different light treatments to measure their impact on the number of tomatoes that can be harvested, as well as the nutritional value and taste of the plants. Red Robin tomatoes will also be grown in soil as a control experiment. The two crops will be compared to measure the effects of the weightless environment on tomato growth.

The space tomatoes will be grown in small bags called plant cushions installed in the Vegetable Production System, known as the Veggie Grow Room, on the space station. The astronauts will regularly water and care for the plants as they grow, and pollinate the flowers.

“Tomatoes will be a new adventure for us on the Veggie team as we try to figure out how to properly water these thirsty plants without overwatering,” said Gioia Massa, NASA’s space crop production scientist and principal investigator. of the tomato research.

In the spring, the tomatoes are ready for their first taste test.

The crew expects three tomato harvests 90, 97 and 104 days after the plants start to grow. During taste tests, the crew evaluates the taste, aroma, juiciness and texture of the tomatoes grown with the two different light treatments. Half of each tomato crop is frozen and sent back to Earth for analysis.

Not only does growing plants on the space station provide the opportunity for fresh food and creative taco nights, it can also boost the crew’s mood during their long space flight.

The astronauts will also conduct surveys to track their moods as they care for and interact with the plants to see how tending the seedlings improves their experience amid the space station’s isolation and confinement.

The hardware is still in development for greater crop production on the space station and eventually on other planets, but scientists are already planning which plants will grow best on the moon and Mars. Earlier this year, a team successfully grew plants in lunar soil, including samples collected from the Apollo missions.

“Tomatoes are going to be a great crop for the moon,” Massa said. “They are very nutritious, very tasty and we think the astronauts will be very excited to grow them there.”

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