By Dr Valerie Jeffries FLS
Undeterred by the loss of astronaut tardigrades spilt on the Moon when their 2019 Beresheet spacecraft crashed, the same team has switched to edible plants, with their Space Hummus Experiment. The basis of Hummus, a delicious internationally popular and highly nourishing food, is the Chickpea. Chickpeas come from the Middle East and have been cultivated for about 10,000 years.
They sent chickpea seeds on a NASA cargo shuttle to the International Space Station in February with a specially developed miniature greenhouse. The greenhouse provides a nutrient gel for soil and controls conditions of light and water, but can’t provide gravity. There is a miniature camera to watch the roots of the seeds and see what direction they take without gravity. School children ran the controls with parallel experiments in the classroom: results so far show that the seedlings in space grow slightly faster than the controls on Earth. The little crop will be sent back to Earth for examination in June.
Fresh chickpeas could enable home-loving astronauts fed up with dehydrated food packets to make fresh hummus in space. NASA has grown lettuce, cabbage, and kale aboard the ISS but chickpeas are a real nutrient-rich and delicious ingredient, not just a token salad.
Team leader Yonatan Winetraub, said “The purpose is a trial run of this greenhouse technology. What we want to do is grow those chickpeas in zero gravity in preparation of growing them on the Moon in a couple of years. The more we learn to grow food with fewer resources, the more prepared we will be for the challenges that await us on Earth as well.”
So, which way was up ?