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Hot New Addition: NASA to Grow First Fruit on International Space Station

It's one small step for mankind, and a huge leap for chilli peppers.

Raka Mukherjee | News18.com@RakaMukherjeee

Updated:July 19, 2019, 12:13 PM IST
Hot New Addition: NASA to Grow First Fruit on International Space Station
Picture of Capsicum annuum. Image credits: Wikimedia Commons.

NASA's efforts to grow something in space might finally be bearing fruit - in all literal sense of the phrase.

If everything works out perfectly, NASA may have a new, hot ingredient added to its list on International Space Station (ISS) in November.

After the various plants and vegetables that astronauts and scientists have managed to grow in space, comes the first fruit - only its perhaps, not a conventional fruit. Española chili pepper plants (Capsicum annuum) is the picking of researchers at NASA, which make it the first fruit reaped in space.

The reason behind this spicy choice is simple: Española peppers can grow in high altitudes and are easily pollinated.

"We were also looking for varieties that don't grow too tall, and yet are very productive in the controlled environments that we would be using in space," NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler told the Rio Grande Sun.

"Health-wise, these peppers are a great source of Vitamin C. It can be used to boost astronaut's immune systems. Zero-gravity sends most bodily fluids to the head, making astronauts feel as though they have a continuous cold," added Jacob Torres, a NASA horticultural scientist.

Food is also the top-priority at NASA. “We can build all the rockets we want to go to Mars, but it won’t work unless we have food to eat,” Torres said. “So, right now we are the top priority research project in NASA.”

Wheeler also added how the spicy fruit was a request from the astronauts. "The astronauts have often expressed a desire for more spicy and flavorful foods, and so having a bit of hot flavor also seemed to be a good thing."

The Española peppers are expected to be sent to the International Space Station between November and January.

Chilli peppers may be the first fruit, but things like space lettuce, space cabbage have become additions to the list of things that can be grown in space ever since the crew of Soviet Salyut 7 spacecraft grew the first model plant in space, Arabidopsis, a member of the mustard family in 1982.

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