(NaturalNews) Space is not the first place you think of when the subject turns to agriculture, but at some point in the future it might, thanks to some recent breakthroughs by Russian cosmonauts/scientists.
According to tech news site Betabeat and Russian media, "Russian space farmers" have managed to grow "a variety of crops" and harvest them successfully aboard the International Space Station. What's more, the veggies have been certified edible (and, we presume, tasty).
"The experiments with peas have been very promising," Margarita Levinskikh, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Problems told an annual space conference in Moscow recently, as reported by RIA Novosti.
In one photo, a pair of Russian scientists are seen grinning behind free-floating bell peppers and grapes. One is holding a baggie of leafy greens.
More crops planned for the near future
Russian news reports said the scientists have managed to grow Japanese leafy greens, as well as a variety of dwarf wheat that has in turn produced seeds of "just extraordinary quality," added Levinskikh.
She said that next year Russian cosmonauts will attempt to grow rice and more bell peppers once the station's Lada greenhouse has been repaired, which is a cooperative effort between the institute and the Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory.
More from RIA Novosti:
Researchers have relied so far on analyzing root modules of the crops to verify them as safe to eat. They plan to grow rice and the grass species purple false brome, whose genomes have already been sequenced, in order to look for possible genetic abnormalities after they have grown in space.
Growing food in space has long been a subject of interest to scientists. Not only do plants scrub out carbon dioxide that is exhaled by astronauts, but they can also be utilized to recycle human waste into food (though, admittedly, that doesn't sound tasty on the surface). Right now, all food on the space station is flown up periodically during resupply missions.
The research could prove useful for any long-term missions, such as to Mars and beyond, many of which are already in the planning stages. Such missions would require months' or even years' worth of food, which would contribute greatly to a space vehicle's launch weight.
"Astronauts onboard the ISS already drink water distilled from sweat and urine," said the Russian news agency.
Yuck, I guess.
Research was years in the making
Part of the problem of growing food in space is being able to supply enough nutrient-rich soil - a problem NASA has been working on since at least 2004, according to this news release:
Long interested in ways to aid plant growth, NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and Kennedy Space Center in Florida began initial work with Boulder Innovative Technologies (BIT) to find a way to provide nutrient-rich soil for long-term space travel.
Think of your own backyard garden and all of the tools and watering systems needed to grow plants to fruition. Then imagine trying to grow a garden on the Space Shuttle or International Space Station in small spaces with limited resources. Add on top of that the lack of gravity and we can see that maintaining a healthy garden could turn out to be downright difficult.
It sounds as though space engineers and scientists have definitely made some progress in this area, as evidenced by the current ISS crew's successes. But they have a ways to go if humans hope to someday colonize orbiting space cities or even distant planets.