NASA astronauts first started growing produce on the ISS in 2014 to prepare for trips to Mars. Mars is so far from Earth that fresh veggies would spoil on the way. Packaged space foods can last a long time, but their nutrients slowly break down. Space gardening provides astronauts with fresh, nutritious foods.
The flavor of fresh food is important too. Astronauts have said that food doesn’t taste the same in space. It tastes bland. That’s why astronauts “are always asking for spicy foods,” says engineer Nicole Dufour. She runs the space gardening project at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Dufour’s team planted 48 pepper seeds in a container called a science carrier to send to space. It arrived on the ISS on July 12, 2021, and was placed in a controlled environment with LED lights and an automatic watering system.