Clear 30° Good Afternoon
Clear 30° Good Afternoon
OpinionColumnistsChristopher Leelum

Cosmic romaine? Pass the dressing!

This handout photo provided by NASA shows a

This handout photo provided by NASA shows a crop of "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system that tests hardware for growing vegetables and other plants in space on the International Space Station. These are the salad days of scientific research on the International Space Station. On Monday, for the first time astronauts munched on red romaine lettuce that they grew in space themselves. (NASA via AP) Photo Credit: AP

This is one small meal for man, one giant leaf for mankind.

Astronauts at the International Space Station had lettuce on the menu Monday, the first time space-grown food was consumed in space. NASA's space plant experiment, called Veg-01, has been growing crops in space since March 2014 and sending them back home for testing, but this was the first time astronauts could feast on their crop.

And feast they did. In their confined zero-gravity cabin, astronauts munched on delicious red romaine leaves served with Italian balsamic vinegar and just a touch of extra-virgin olive oil. All while orbiting the Earth at 4.76 miles per second.

Talk about an out-of-this-world dining experience.

For the ever-advancing world of space travel, this was an exciting and significant scientific breakthrough. With NASA's travel plans including sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by 2030, astronauts are going to need some nourishment when they can't call up a delivery from Earth. Finding a steady source of fresh food is a major hurdle for long-distance space travel.

Fortunately, this growing experiment is extremely efficient. Veg-01 uses aeroponics -- growing plants in an Earthlike atmosphere without soil. Veggies grown with aeroponics not only need less water and fertilizer, but are much less prone to disease and grow up to three times faster than plants using soil, NASA said. Scientists say zero gravity enables an efficiency not possible on Earth.

What do the red space leaves taste like? In a NASA YouTube video of the meal, one astronaut remarked, "That's awesome." Another said it tasted like arugula. It's efficient, useful and tasty -- three ingredients for a landmark scientific development.

So the next time you're eyeing a sad, gravity-bound salad at your desk, know that the exciting journey for making space salad with tabbouleh and pine nuts has just begun.

Christopher Leelum, a student at Stony Brook University, is an intern with Newsday and amNewYork.