NASA plans to launch something new into space — and it’s hot.
The New Mexico chili pepper will be the first fruit to be grown in the International Space Station, with plans to be launched for testing in March 2020.
Jacob Torres, a NASA technical horticultural scientist and Purdue graduate, explained there were several reasons for choosing chili pepper to grow in space.
There are no pollinators, gravity or sunlight available for the plants in space. The chili pepper plant self-pollinates, making it easier to grow.
“Tomatoes and peppers have the pollination aspects in one flower,” Torres said. “An astronaut can literally shake the flower to pollinate it instead of having a bee.”
As for nutritional value, the chili pepper also contains nearly two times more Vitamin C than an orange. The fruit also has creatine, a natural compound that helps muscles produce energy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Torres said many astronauts repeatedly report they feel as though they have a cold while in space.
“You don’t have gravity to circulate all the blood through your body, and that blood pools in the astronaut’s head,” Torres said.
As a result, astronauts may feel congested and lose their ability to taste as well as they would on Earth. They also have pressure around their eyes that make it difficult to see.
“The pepper in particular has nutrients in it that helps alleviate some of those things the astronauts experience in space,” Torres said.
Torres also said astronauts get food fatigue. A person eats the same foods every day and gets tired of the taste, which can make an astronaut lose morale.
“To have a fresh pepper to bite into occasionally, that lifts your morale and makes you really happy,” Torres said.
James Rieser, a NASA intern and Purdue graduate, is working to find a water source for the plants. He has been experimenting with pepper and tomato plants.
“I think the biggest thing is probably figuring out the best way to deliver water to them,” Rieser said.
There are currently two systems on the space station, the Vegetable Production System and the Advanced Plant Habitat. Both allow researchers to learn how to grow plants without gravity by recreating environments that the plants can thrive in.