Back in August of 2015, an historic moment occurred on the International Space Station (ISS).
The crew ate lettuce.
But this was no ordinary lettuce. This was 'Outredgeous' lettuce — a variety of red romaine grown on the ISS. Yes, that's right — using NASA's prototype Vegetable Production System (a.k.a. VEGGIE), it was grown in space!
As you can see in the video, the astronauts in question (Kimiya Yui, Kjell Lindgren, and Scott Kelly) all clearly enjoyed the taste of this orbit-born vegetable. But now studies are showing that this particular lettuce's value was more than just its fresh flavour. It has been proven to be as healthy as the red romaine grown here on Earth.
Though it has a few extra microorganisms growning on it (exclusive to the environment of the ISS), it is as nutritious as any red romaine you can find down here. All while saving on the considerable shipping costs of sending fresh food to the ISS (which comes to millions of dollars per pound).
And this good news is the tip of the iceberg (lettuce, of course). How so? What does a little space lettuce change about our future in space?
Red lettuce, red planet
It seems like everything at NASA is pointing towards impending missions to the Moon and Mars. Both of these will be asking astronauts to spend far longer than ever in space. And this also means that sending over fresh fruits and vegetables for them to eat will be either impractical (the Moon) or just plain impossible (Mars).
To stay healthy, astronauts will need the kind of nutrients that this food can provide. Not to mention that it just feels good to eat fresh, vibrant veggies, instead of a bunch of frozen and/or dried foods. Now that studies prove that this 'Outredgeous' food is good for humans, researchers can really focus on using VEGGIE to make spacecraft and space stations places where vegetables are grown all the time. (In fact, they have also grown cabbages, other lettuces, and recently started growing the first fruit in space!)
Of course, getting fresh food is just one of the many challenges that we face when trying to stay healthy in space. But it's a great start.