(Photo Credit: Silje Wolff/Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Watch out, Earth gardens: Space is set to become the next destination for growing fresh vegetables.

Following the successful cultivation of lettuce at the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015, beans could be the next legume to leave our planet in 2021, said a Norwegian University of Science and Technology NTNU) press release. Other salad essentials could also be cultivated in space, and they would provide cosmonauts and other intergalactic travelers with the nutrition they need to live on other planets.

“The dream of every astronaut is to be able to eat fresh food – like strawberries, cherry tomatoes or anything that’s really flavorful. Someday that will certainly be possible,” said Silje Wolff, a plant physiologist at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS) at NTNU, in the press release. “We envision a greenhouse with several varieties of vegetables.”

A crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system at the ISS. (Photo Credit: NASA)

Wolff just completed an experiment that cultivated lettuce in a space-like environment. The lettuce was planted in artificial soil derived from lava rock and placed in high-tech planters that monitored the nutrients of each plant. The aim of the experiment was to have each head of lettuce grow in water supplemented by plant nutrients.

While observing the plants in their climate-regulated growth chambers, Wolff noticed that they used nitrogen the most as a nutrient. Wolff further studied how different nutrient doses impacted each plant’s water intake.

“We found that plants can, in a way, ‘smell’ the amount of nutrients available to them. When the nitrogen concentration is very low, the plant will absorb more water and thus more nitrogen until it reaches an optimal level,” Wolff said in the press release. “The plant has a mechanism that turns on when the nitrogen level is adequate. Then it adjusts both nitrogen and water absorption down.”

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The next step of Wolff’s research would be to grow beans in space and analyze how the absence of gravity might impact plants’ ability to absorb nutrients and transport water. Even though the absence of gravity can’t be simulated in a lab on Earth, the beans will be placed in a centrifuge to grow in the space station. This centrifuge will then be rotated to create gravity levels for the legumes.

“The art of getting something to grow in space can be transferred to our planet,” Wolff said in the press release. “This is how we create a setup that produces both the microgravity conditions in the space station and the 1-g force that exists on Earth.”

We might have to wait a couple of years to grow beans and other vegetables in space, but once it’s done, it will be exciting to see plants sprout outside of our planet.

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