A new shipment of supplies, which includes tomato seeds, will be delivered to the International Space Station by SpaceX this weekend. Making its second attempt to send the cargo after poor weather conditions at the launch site halted the mission on Tuesday, SpaceX departed with the new supplies from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida around 2:20 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The cargo is filled with numerous supplies, including a pair of new solar arrays for the space station, dwarf tomato seeds, and a variety of science experiments. There is also a Moon Microscope kit on board, which is only one of several medical supplies. The package includes a portable, handheld microscope that astronauts can use to collect and transfer blood samples to the flight doctors on the ground for improved patient diagnosis and care.
After the shipment arrives at its destination, the crew aboard the space station will have the opportunity to enjoy Thanksgiving-themed delicacies, which include ice cream and dishes like spicy green beans, cranberry apple pies, pumpkin pie, and candy corn.
During spacewalks that are slated for November 29 and December 3, the solar arrays will be deployed outside the space station, giving the station a power boost. SpaceX has launched more than twenty resupply flights to the space station over the past ten years as a part of a multibillion-dollar agreement with NASA. SpaceX has had its busiest year to date, finishing more than 50 operations, which include two human flights.
With nutrients being a vital part of preserving health in space, Kirt Costello, chief scientist for NASA’s International Space Station Program and deputy manager of the ISS Research Integration Office, explained the importance of sustaining the astronauts’ health with not only nutrition but also various nutritious plants. There is hardly any fresh produce on the space station, where the astronauts spend six months in low-Earth orbit eating prepared meals.
Astronauts on the International Space Station have grown and sampled several kinds of lettuce, radishes, and chillies. The dwarf tomatoes, officially called Red Robin tomatoes, will be added to the list of space-grown salads and will be ready for tasting in the spring. On the space station, the Robin tomatoes will be grown in tiny bags called plant pillows under two different light conditions inside the Vegetable Production System (Veggie growth chamber).
Gioia Massa, NASA’s space crop production scientist and principal investigator for the tomato study, stated, “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.”
Additionally, the tomatoes will be grown on Earth as a control experiment, which will be compared to the space-grown plant to determine the effects of a zero-gravity environment on tomato growth. Half of the tomato harvest will be frozen and returned to Earth for analysis. Massa also predicted that tomatoes would be suitable to grow on the moon, saying, “Tomatoes are going to be a great crop for the moon. They’re very nutritious, very delicious, and we think the astronauts will be really excited to grow them there.”
Watch the video of the launch below.