A team of scientists at NASA are working to launch the Española chile pepper into space. This would be the first fruiting plant the US has grown and harvested at the International Space Station. As NASA looks to send astronauts to Mars, it's crucial that the agency find plants and fruits that can travel with them.
Jacob Torres, a NASA scientist, stated that depending on the alignment of the planets, the shortest trip to Mars would still take two years. Traditional pre-packaged meals will not provide enough vitamins and nutrients for astronauts on the journey.
Before NASA embarks toward the Red Planet, scientists must find ways to supplement the astronauts' diet with freshly grown fruits and vegetables, such as the Española pepper.
There are many challenges to growing crops in space. A plant must be easily pollinated and able to survive in a high-carbon-dioxide environment. Scientists found that certain chile peppers can do both these things. When Torres arrived at NASA in 2018 for an internship, scientists were exploring the possibility of growing Hatch peppers, a New Mexico chile.
The Española peppers have exceeded expectations, he said. NASA is preparing to send the peppers off to the International Space Station between November and January. Not only can chile peppers withstand extreme conditions, they are packed with vitamins. This will help astronauts battle some of the health problems they face in space, Torres said.
Zero gravity causes the body's fluids to rise to the head, making astronauts feel as though they have a constant cold. Astronauts also report losing their sense of taste and having a hard time seeing, Torres said. These peppers will be able provide a boost of vitamin C.
"Just imagine having a fresh pepper to bite into after months of eating cardboard," Torres said told news5cleveland.com.