First Harvest of the Final Frontier

Astronauts become gardeners with Veggie technology.

By Alex Gardner

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NASA's VEGGIE program hopes to grow a space garden.Get to Know “Veggie”
With the absence of soil, space, gravity, and air, outer space sounds like a terrible place to plant a garden. But that’s not the case anymore thanks to the Vegetable Production System, a convergence of technology and nature. Here is how Veggie will provide a life-sustaining environment in an unforgiving place.

Veggie provides:

Structure
Veggie will be secured in the Columbus Laboratory Module of the International Space Station where many astronauts pass through daily. Veggie’s clear Teflon sides fold, like an accordion, which allows the technology to be easily stored away. The height can also therefore be adjusted depending on the heights of the plants growing inside. Veggie is powered by electricity and will draw less than 100 watts of power. In order to keep Veggie secure inside the module, it will be clipped to a wall.

Soil & Water
The seeds will be placed in plant pillows that are similar to peat pellets that gardeners use to start seeds indoors. The seeds, and later the plants, will draw nutrients from a decomposed clay material called arcillite. In order to allow the plants to draw water, wicks will connect the plant pillows to a root mat below that is filled with water.

Air
Unlike earlier systems developed by NASA and OrbiTec, Veggie is an open-air system that pulls air into it with a fan and was designed to assist in cleansing the air of the ISS. It was also much simpler to have an open-air model than to pipe the right mixture of air into the system.

Light
Robert Morrow, Ph.D., lead scientist of the Bio-Products and Bio-Production Systems Group at Orbital Technologies Corporation and a leader of the Veggie project, describes the light system as the main piece of hardware. Veggie contains red, blue, and green LED lights, and the unique color combination serves many of the plants’ needs. The red and blue lights are at opposite ends of the light spectrum and allow the plants to photosynthesize. Although the red light alone would cause the plants to photosynthesize, the addition of the blue light also gives the plants a sense of direction and prompts them to grow upward in the zero-gravity environment. The green light is simply used to showcase the cherished plants and allow the astronauts to observe the coloring of the plants and take accurate photos. The lettuce will be constantly illuminated throughout the growing period.

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