Lettuce grown in space is ‘safe’ and delicious, NASA study says

Now astronauts can have the stars — and fresh food, too.

It is not only possible to grow lettuce in outer space, but also safe to eat it, according to a new study published Friday in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

The red romaine lettuce — grown aboard the International Space Station between 2014 and 2016 — is a giant leap for mankind, as it means astronauts can venture farther into the galaxies and have more nutrients while they work.

“The ability to grow food in a sustainable system that is safe for crew consumption will become critical as NASA moves toward longer missions,” Christina Khodadad, a Kennedy Space Center researcher and author of the study, says in a statement. “Salad-type, leafy greens can be grown and consumed fresh with few resources.”

The lettuce, of a variety called Outredgeous, was grown over the course of roughly one to two months in a space crop-growing system using surface-sterilized seeds. The space lettuce, the study reports, was similar in composition to its Earth-grown counterpart, and in fact tended toward being more vitamin rich.

Not only is it healthy and edible, but Outredgeous is also quite tasty, astronauts report. “I like that,” says astronaut Kjell Lindgren in a 2015 teaser video where he and fellow astronauts first sample space lettuce. Lindgren compares its taste to arugula. At the time, the lettuce had received NASA’s approval, but did not yet have the new study’s additional backing and insight.

Space lettuce, in addition to getting the honor of being the first veggie grown, harvested and eaten in space, also offers researchers great insight and hope into what other greens can be created beyond Earth.

“The International Space Station is serving as a test bed for future long-duration missions, and these types of crop growth tests are helping to expand the suite of candidates that can be effectively grown in microgravity,” says study co-author Gioia Massa of NASA. “Future tests will study other types of leafy crops as well as small fruits like peppers and tomatoes, to help provide supplemental fresh produce for the astronaut diet.”