NASA is hard at work experimenting with how various organisms behave in space. After sending squids, worms, and fungi to the ISS, now the space agency is attempting to cultivate chili peppers there. In just a few months, astronauts will be able to add a little spice to their taste buds with fully grown red and green peppers.
The experiment we’re talking about is called the Plant Habitat-04 (PH-04), and it contains Hatch chile pepper seeds that were carried by SpaceX’s 22nd commercial resupply services mission in June to the ISS.
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, part of the Expedition 65 crew, is the one in charge of this new experiment. He arrived on the space station in April as commander for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 that brought four other astronauts to the ISS for a science mission that stretches for six months. It’s not Kimbrough’s first time to deal with growing plants in space. Back in 2016, he helped to grow (and eat) red romaine lettuce.
Now, for this spicy experiment, a researchers’ team planted the seeds in what it’s called a science carrier that fits into the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), one of the three plant growth chambers on the ISS made for growing crops. If successful, PH-04 will provide another crop to complement the crews’ diet for future missions on the orbital lab.
Around 48 pepper seeds will grow for about four months before the astronauts harvest them. It will be the first time that the astronauts will grow chile peppers from seed to maturity in space. The crew will eat some of the peppers (if the team concludes that they are safe to eat) and return the rest to Earth to be analyzed.
But why chili peppers? Well, it turns out they are great candidates for the astronauts’ reduced ability to taste and smell. Since they are in microgravity abroad ISS, a temporary side effect is that their taste buds do not seem to be as effective.
Data obtained from the PH-04 will include the astronauts’ feedback on the peppers’ flavor and texture, as well as Scoville measurements that will determine how spicy are the peppers in space compares to how they are back on Earth.