Astronauts onboard the International Space Station are aiming to grow the first-ever peppers in space via the Plant Habitat-04 (PH-04) experiment. PH-04 will grow “Espanola Improved” New Mexico Hatch Green Chiles. These are a medium-heat chile peppers NASA says have been suitable for use in controlled growing environments.
The pepper seeds were planted in April of this year and sent to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s 22nd Commercial Refueling Services (CRS-22) mission. Astronauts will grow the plants for four months in the Space Station’s “advanced plant habitat” (APH), which contains more than 180 sensors and can regulate temperature, moisture levels, carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. NASA says the growth habitat is “mostly autonomous” and that it sends data from the sensors to scientists on the ground at Kennedy Space Center.
The PH-04 experiment is meant to help NASA in enabling long-duration deep-space exploration, for which adequate food supply is needed. Peppers are a good source of nutrients and could be used supplement astronauts’ packaged food, according to NASA. PH-04 will also monitor whether elements like texture and flavor change when the peppers are grown in space. NASA notes that the whole experiment may also be able to inform the processes for growing peppers via traditional outdoor agriculture as well as through indoor farming.
Another goal of the project is to create an indoor grow system that needs little input from the astronauts themselves, since they would not have the time to devote to growing plants that those of us on Earth would.
There’s a growing interest from multiple different countries to develop new novel concepts for feeding people in space. The PH-04 joins a growing list initiatives, including 3D-printed pizzas, tomatoes, and cell-based steaks, that have been researched or tested.