A team of scientists from NASA is working to launch the Spanish chili into space. This would be the first fruit plant that the United States has grown and harvested on the International Space Station.
When NASA seeks to send astronauts to Mars, it is crucial that the agency find plants and fruits that can travel with them.
According to Jacob Torres, a NASA scientist, according to the alignment of the planets, the shortest trip to Mars would still take two years. Traditional pre-packaged meals will not provide enough vitamins and nutrients for astronauts on the trip.
"They could fill their stomachs, but they would not have the nutrients to do their job," Torres said.
Before NASA embarks on the Red Planet, scientists must find ways to supplement the diet of astronauts with freshly grown fruits and vegetables, such as Spanish pepper.
Why the chiles?
There are many challenges for growing crops in space. A plant must be easily pollinated and must be able to survive in an environment with high carbon dioxide content.
Scientists discovered that certain chili peppers can do both.
When Torres arrived at NASA in 2018 for an internship, scientists were exploring the possibility of growing Hatch peppers, a New Mexico chili.
Torres, a native of that state, suggested that the team look at Española's pepper instead.
Peppers grow in the deserts of New Mexico, but Spanish peppers grow at much higher altitudes and have a shorter growth period, which makes them better for harvesting in space.
Spanish peppers have exceeded expectations, he said. NASA is preparing to send the peppers to the International Space Station between November and January.
Fighting colds in space.
These peppers may provide a boost of vitamin C.
"Imagine having a fresh pepper to bite after months of eating cardboard," Torres said.
An extraterrestrial garden.
NASA hopes to grow a variety of crops in space with different nutritional values, Torres said.
"We need to grow enough to supplement the diet," he said. "Just like here on Earth, we can not live on the same thing."
The Spanish pepper would be the first fruitful plant, a flowering plant that grows a seed pod for procreation, which will be grown on the International Space Station.
The astronauts love to maintain the gardens, said Torres.
Commander Scott Kelly cared for a zinnia flower in bloom during a mission in 2016.
He shared images of the plant aboard the International Space Station, tweeting "Yes, there are other forms of life in space! #SpaceFlower #YearInSpace"