Earthly space travelers have been trying to perfect orbital botany for a while now. Stable, sustainable off-world agricultural practices are needed to make longer-term exploration missions possible, and though the International Space Station (ISS) has seen a few successful low-orbit gardening endeavors, all have used some sort of soil or soil-replacing growth media.
According to NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Watkins, she has begun to harvest radishes and mizuna greens aboard the ISS — grown without any soil.
Growing any edible plants in space is always thrilling but using dirt-like growth materials presents potential resource, mess, and sanitation problems. Watkins‘ work can prove to be revolutionary.
Watkins grew the cosmic vegetables with the help of a system called XROOTS. This is an abbreviation for the eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System, XROOTS which uses only hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to support a plant through all stages of growth, starting with a seed.
NASA says that the system — created by private sector company Sierra Space — is experimental, containing several different “independent growth chambers” that enable astronauts to test a variety of soil-free, air-and-water-based concoctions on different types of plants.
The machine still needs to be worked on. We are waiting for a full culinary review of the off-planet veggies. But the XROOTS experiment was just launched back in February and seeing as how it was meant to last 4-6 months, we’re looking forward to any other crops and discoveries it might yield — not to mention the tech it could make possible in future.