International Space Station: NASA astronauts grow 48 Chile peppers in space

It’s official, Chile peppers growing on the International Space Station.

Part of NASA’s Plant Habitat-04 experiment, a batch of 48 Hatch Chile pepper was sent to the ISS and reached the orbital outpost on June 5 on a SpaceX cargo ship. After almost a month, the red and green Chile peppers have started to grow.

The seeds sent to space are Espanola ImprovedNuMex (New Mexico) Hatch Green Chiles, which is routinely eaten when green and is ground into fine powder when red.

The peppers exhibited sustainability in highly controlled environments. In a couple of months, astronauts will have green and red Chile peppers in their diet.

The Chile pepper is grown in a device called the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH). The APH is one of the three plant growth chambers that NASA uses on the International Space Station.

Equipped with more than 180 sensors, the APH regulates things like moisture level, carbon dioxide levels, temperature, light, so that the plant grows inside just like it would on Earth.

Currently, astronaut Shane Kimbrough is overlooking the experiment. Shane has been a part of such experiments before.

In 2016, Shane cultivated a sample of space-grown red romaine lettuce. He also initiated the Plant Habitat-04 experiment. However, he will not be able to see the results of this experiment as he’ll be back on Earth by the time the peppers are ready.

Living in microgravity has side effects, though temporary, like loss of taste and smell. Due to this, spicy and seasoned foods are suitable for the astronauts as they give a jolt to the palette and also improve astronauts’ well-being.

LaShelle Spencer, Plant Habitat-04 project’s team lead, in a NASA statement, said, “The effect of microgravity, quality of light, temperature, and root zone moisture, altogether will affect the flavour and texture of the pepper. It will be fascinating to see how the fruit will grow and taste.”

Due to the long germination and growing period, the PH-04 project is being considered as one of the most complex plant experiments on the International Space Station to date. In previous projects, astronauts introduced space-grown red lettuce, Mizuna mustard, radish, and other two types of lettuce to their diets. They have also grown flowering plants such as zinnias.

Now that space exploration is gaining momentum, and crewed missions to Moon and Mars are being planned, growing food more locally on the ISS is an important step. Astronauts cannot rely on food supplies; hence, the Habitat Research Project will churn out more efficient options.