New Mexico Chile is out of this world. Not really.
NASA scientists and state agriculture experts met virtually Friday to celebrate the team that grew the New Mexico chili aboard the International Space Station.
A group of “Hatchstronauts” harvested the peppers last fall.
NASA astronaut Megan McArthur spent 200 days aboard the ISS and helped cultivate the cosmic harvest.
McArthur said it was “a delight” to have green plants growing in the sparse, mechanical environment of the space station.
The chili harvest also spiced up the astronauts’ diet with taco night.
“We ate them for dinner, for breakfast, as much as we could until they were gone,” McArthur said.
Jacob Torres, a NASA scientist from Española who worked on the project, said it was the longest plant experiment ever conducted in space.
It also produced the most products of any space farming company.
“As we evaluated the crop or the fruit that we could produce, it evolved that bell peppers would be a good option because of the way they pollinate and the way they grow and their nutrient content,” Torres said.
The team ate all the peppers from the first harvest in October.
On the second harvest, the crew ate some chili, then saved a dozen peppers for NASA testing.
Fruits are a good source of vitamins for astronauts on long space missions.
Growing crops can also be good for the mental health of the crew.
“These are the building blocks of the missions we’ll be doing in the future,” McArthur said. “We are going to go further from home, we are going to be in more isolated conditions and it is going to be even longer until we return. And so these kinds of things that connect us to our home planet will be even more important.”
The plant’s habitat was controlled remotely from the Kennedy Space Center.
The scientists used fans to create a breeze and help plants pollinate and produce fruit.
The space station crew also hand-pollinated some flowers.
McArthur tried his own experiment, playing Red Hot Chili Peppers songs for the growing plants.
New Mexico State University developed the hybrid pepper that was grown in space.
The improved NuMex Española pepper is a hybrid of the Hatch Sandia and Española varieties.
Torres and the team visited farms in New Mexico and grew various types of crops on Earth before settling on Chile for the space mission.
“For students and kids who are trying to think about what they’re going to do with their future, to be able to see us growing peppers in space is just amazing,” Torres said.
State Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte thanked the team for taking New Mexico chili to new heights.
“You’re creating that opportunity to really expand the scope of agriculture, food, and human habitat by doing these experiments in space,” Witte said. “You are really paving the way for the next generation.”
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