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Tupperware improves extraterrestrial lettuce growing


Tupperware is going to help NASA space agency grow vegetables in space. The company is developing a new system for watering plants in the ISS space station's vegetable garden.

The ISS astronauts have been experimenting with the growing of lettuce and sprouting vegetables in space for a couple of years now with the aid of a hydroponics system which only uses water and nutrients, without any soil. In 2015 ISS crew members ate their first self-grown lettuce leaves on board. Their crop consisted of three red romaine lettuces. The plants grow on gel-like pillows suspended in hermetically sealed boxes filled with water.

Watering the vegetable garden

The problem is that these dry out rapidly and the astronauts have to spend a relatively large amount of their time 'watering' the vegetable garden. Tupperware, which is well-known for its air-tight plastic containers, has developed a sponge-like pillow with aerospace company Techshot which is able to retain water for an extended period of time. The new system replaces gravity, as it were, with the aid of capillary forces and unusually shaped pillows. The fact that these do not dry out so quickly means the ISS astronauts spend less of their precious time gardening. The first new plant pillows will be going to be the ISS space station at the end of 2018.

Freeze-dried vegetables

Astronauts generally eat vegetables that have been freeze-dried on earth. The lettuces grown in ISS look virtually the same as those grown on earth. The plants furthermore do not grow very differently in space than they do on earth. Light appears to determine the direction of growth in the weightless extraterrestrial conditions. Leaves and stems grow towards the light, while roots grow away from it.


NASA is experimenting with growing vegetables in space mainly with a view to long voyages to Mars. The presence of fresh food on board is then going to be essential for the space travellers. Antioxidants in fruit and vegetables ensure that waste products in the human body that are the result of space radiation are removed. However, growing food on a long space voyage does require a lot of room and energy, a problem that can hopefully be solved using automation and efficiency technologies.