National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut Frank Rubio recently shared the story of „two rogue tomatoes” who went missing aboard the International Space Station (ISS) nearly a year ago.
Because of the lack of gravity, Rubio accidentally lost fruit while harvesting it for the Exposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) experiment, a soil-less plant experiment.
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He will test the space station in 2022 A record 371 day mission. These are the first tomatoes grown in space or harvested on the ISS.
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A Interview When Rubio lost those tomatoes in October of this year, he accused „a lot of people” of „probably” eating them.
„I put (tomatoes) in a little bag and one of my employees was doing it,” Rubio recalled of the incident. [an] The event with some school kids, I thought it would be kind of cool to show the kids, 'Hey guys, this is the first tomato harvested in space.'”
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„Then, I was pretty confident that I had Velcroed it where I needed to Velcro it, and then I came back and it was gone,” Rubio added. He estimated that he spent 8 to 20 hours of his own time searching for the lost fruit.
„I mostly wanted to find it so I could prove 'I don’t eat tomatoes,'” he said, explaining that he never found it. „The proud moment of harvesting the first tomato in space turned into the self-inflicted wound of losing the first tomato in space,” he said.
A few months after Rubio’s return to Earth, the Expedition 70 crew members finish the strange case. Almost a year after the tomatoes disappeared, „they were dehydrated and a little crushed”. „Other than some discoloration, it has no microbial or fungal growth,” NASA said.
When the crew announced the news, they joked that Rubio had not eaten the tomato as they suspected.
Will those tomatoes return to Earth?
„Rogue tomatoes recovered from the XROOTS experiment are discarded and will not be returned to Earth for analysis,” NASA said.
Why is it important to grow plants in space?
Growing food aboard the International Space Station is one of several research investigations for long-duration space missions to the Moon and Mars, according to NASA.
The US space agency added that the benefits of growing plants in space are not just about sustaining future space missions or providing food and other services. Apart from these, astronauts report that time spent gardening has psychological benefits, such as increasing their quality of life in space and boosting their morale.
„Research aboard the space station advances the technology and scientific knowledge needed to successfully grow plants in space and helps humans push the boundaries of spaceflight. This work also supports efforts to improve plants grown for food and other vital uses on Earth.” The space agency said.
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