Astronauts on the International Space Station recently enjoyed a fresh supply of leafy greens, thanks in large part to the efforts of Expedition 64 crewmember Michael Hopkins. NASA's SpaceX Crew-1 mission commander took the lead on conducting four Vegetable Production System (Veggie) experiments, with the last two wrapping up after an April 13 harvest. VEG-03K and VEG-03L tested a new space crop, 'Amara' mustard, and a previously grown crop, 'Extra Dwarf' pak choi. They were grown for 64 days, the longest leafy greens have grown on station.
The pak choi grew for so long that it began to flower as part of its reproduction cycle. Hopkins' efforts in eclipsing the mark included using a small paintbrush to pollinate plant flowers. He decided on that approach after speaking with Kennedy's Matt Romeyn, a space crop production project scientist and science lead on the four plant experiments. They discussed multiple options, including just letting the flowers self-pollinate.
"I wasn't all at surprised that he chose this route to make sure the plants were fully pollinated because he has always wanted to be very involved," Romeyn said. "After he used the paintbrush, we saw a high seed production rate."
This experimentation is important because fruit crops require pollination, and crews need to understand how the process works in microgravity and, eventually, in reduced gravity. Fruit will head to the station soon, when Kennedy sends pepper seeds to the space station later this year as part of the Plant Habitat-04 experiment. The pepper seeds will fly on SpaceX's 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission and will grow in the Advanced Plant Habitat. A VEG-05 experiment with dwarf tomatoes also is planned for Veggie next year.
Multiple harvests from the most recent experiments maximized the amount of produce Hopkins grew, and the crew used the greens to add variety to their meals. Hopkins ate the pak choi as a side dish, with leaves marinated in an empty tortilla package. He added soy sauce and garlic, and put it in a small food warmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Astronauts have been enjoying the Amara mustard "like a lettuce wrap," Hopkins explained, adding ingredients such as chicken, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar.
"Delicious, plus the texture or crunch," he wrote in the experiment notes after sampling Amara mustard grown in space.
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