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SpaceX’s 26th commercial resupply is set to launch this weekend, and it will carry an abundance of supplies, a pair of new solar panels, dwarf tomato seeds, and a range of science experiments to the International Space Station.
The mission will also provide Thanksgiving-style ice cream and treats, including spicy green beans, cranberry desserts, pumpkin pie and sweet corn to the space station crew.
The Dragon spacecraft was scheduled to lift off Tuesday with its 7,700 pounds (3,493 kilograms) of cargo from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but the launch was delayed due to bad weather. It is now scheduled to take off on Saturday, November 26 at 2:20 p.m. ET.
The International Space Station Deployment Solar Panels, or iROSA, will be installed outside the floating lab during spacewalks scheduled for Nov. 29 and Dec. 3. The solar panels will give a boost to the space station.
The cargo includes a number of health-related items, such as the Moon Microscope Kit. The portable microscope will allow astronauts to collect and send images of blood samples to air surgeons on the ground for diagnosis and treatment.
Nutrients are a key part of maintaining good health in space. But fresh produce is in short supply on the space station compared to the prepackaged meals astronauts eat during their six-month stays in low Earth orbit.
“It’s pretty important to our exploration goals at NASA to be able to support the crew not only with nutrition, but also to consider various types of plants as sources of nutrients that we would struggle to maintain on long voyages. between distant destinations. like Mars and so on,” said Kirt Costello, NASA’s International Space Station Program Chief Scientist and Deputy Director of the ISS Research Integration Office.
Astronauts grew and tasted different types of lettuce, radishes and peppers on the International Space Station. Now, crew members can add Dwarf Tomatoes – specifically Red Robin Tomatoes – to their list of space-grown salad ingredients.
The experiment, known as the Pick-and-Eat Salad-Crop Productivity, Nutritional Value, and Acceptability to Supplement the ISS Food System, is part of an effort to provide continuous production of fresh food in the space.
Dwarf tomato seeds will be grown under two different light treatments to measure their impact on the number of tomatoes that can be harvested, as well as the nutritional value and taste of the plants. Red Robin tomatoes will also be grown on Earth as part of a control experiment. The two crops will be compared to measure the effects of the weightless environment on tomato growth.
Space tomatoes will be grown in small bags called vegetable pillows installed in the vegetable production system, known as the vegetable growth chamber, on the space station. Astronauts frequently water and tend to plants as they grow, as well as pollinating flowers.
“Tomatoes will be a new adventure for us on the Veggie Team, trying to figure out how to keep these thirsty plants well watered without overwatering,” said Gioia Massa, NASA Space Crop Production Scientist and Principal Investigator for the tomato study.
The tomatoes will be ready for their first taste test in the spring.
The team expects three tomato harvests 90, 97 and 104 days after the plants start growing. During taste tests, the crew will assess the flavor, aroma, juiciness and texture of tomatoes grown using the two different light treatments. Half of each tomato harvest will be frozen and sent back to Earth for analysis.
Growing plants on the space station not only provides the opportunity for fresh eating and creative taco nights, but can also lift the mood of the crew during their long spaceflight.
Astronauts will also take part in surveys to track their mood as they care for and interact with plants to see how feeding the seedlings improves their experience in the isolation and confinement of the space station.
Material is still in development for larger crop production on the space station and possibly other planets, but scientists are already planning which plants might grow better on the moon and Mars. Earlier this year, a team successfully grew plants in lunar soil that included samples collected during the Apollo missions.
“Tomatoes are going to be a great crop for the moon,” Massa said. “They’re very nutritious, very delicious, and we think the astronauts will be really excited to grow them there.”
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