The first tacos with space peppers on the menu of the International Space Station

It wasn’t tuesday, and yet, the astronauts of the International Space Station (ISS) were treated to a taco night on Friday, October 29. And not just any tacos: space tacos. Because, for the first time in history, in addition to beef, rehydrated tomatoes and artichokes, they were able to incorporate chili peppers that they grew on board the ISS, as tweeted by the American astronaut Megan McArthur.

A few hours earlier, the International Space Station had indeed announced on his Twitter account that the astronauts had plucked their first crop of green peppers. These peppers are the result of an experiment – “Plant Habitat-04” – organized by NASA in the station for nearly four months. After being watered to launch the experiment on July 12, the peppers were then able to grow in a small grow system the size of a microwave oven.

Read also the summary: Everything you always wanted to know about the International Space Station

The peppers chosen for the experiment are NuMex Española Improved peppers, a hybrid variety commonly found in the Hatch Valley area of ​​southern New Mexico, USA. After two years of studying the various possibilities, the researchers determined that “These peppers were the best combination of performance and flavor out of the nearly two dozen tested,” Matt Romeyn, the person in charge of this operation, assured in a video posted by NASA in July.

“One of the most complex experiences”

As recalled the site of the American public radio NPR, this is not the first time that astronauts have managed to grow food in space: they had thus managed to harvest lettuce and radishes in the past. Researchers are limiting themselves for now, Matt Romeyn says “To crops that do not need too much space or intensive treatment”.

However, he emphasizes, this experience was “One of the most complex plants ever carried out on board the station due to the long germination period of the peppers [qui va de dix à quatorze jours] and the duration of their growth [de quatre-vingt-dix à cent vingt jours] ». If some of the peppers have been consumed by the astronauts (in particular to get feedback on their taste), another will be analyzed on their return to Earth. A second harvest is scheduled for December.

While this story of space tacos may seem trivial at first, NASA points out that it is one more step in planning long-term missions, such as a trip to the moon or to Mars. “This is important because the food astronauts eat should be as good as the rest of their equipment. To successfully send people to Mars and bring them back to Earth will require not only the most nutritious foods possible, but also the best tasting foods ”, explained LaShelle Spencer, scientist at the head of the project, last June.

In a publication detailing the objectives of the mission, NASA reminded that meals prepared in advance end up losing some of their key nutrients over time, especially vitamin C, which is found in large quantities in … the peppers tested. “Growing colorful plants in space can have both physical and psychological benefits in the long term”, also assured Matt Romeyn, before the start of the experiment. “We are discovering that growing plants and vegetables with colors and smells helps the well-being of astronauts. “

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The first tacos with space peppers on the menu of the International Space Station