Categories: Sci/Tech

New Mexico Chile Will Be The First Fruiting Plant To Be Grown In Space

NASA's growing a garden aboard the ISS.

  • Scientists at NASA have chosen the New Mexican chile as the first fruiting plant to be grown beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • The chile plant is a hybrid between New Mexico seed and the Sandia seed.
  • The fruit-bearing plant is scheduled to be launched to the ISS in March 2020.

A team of NASA scientists has just picked a hybrid New Mexican chile to be the first fruit-bearing plant to be grown in outer space. The chili plant will be launched and tested at the International Space Station sometime in March 2020.

The pepper cultivar from Española, New Mexico is part of the NASA’s Advanced Plant Habitat experiment testing how to grow food aboard the space station. The agency continues its research on the successful growth of plants in space as it plans to send people to Mars.

The hybrid fruiting plant has been given the name “Española Improved.”

Scientists need to find ways to be able to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in space as the voyage to a different planet takes a long time and packed meals won’t be enough for the astronauts. The agency has already successfully grown leafy greens at the Advanced Plant Habitat, a facility that recreates growing conditions for plants.

It’s not easy growing crops beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Pollination should happen easily and plants should be able to withstand high levels of carbon dioxide in the environment. But scientists have found that certain pepper cultivars are great candidates.

In 2018, NASA scientists Jacob Torres was an intern at the space agency and saw that researchers were studying Hatch peppers from New Mexico. A native of the state, Torres then suggested that the Espanola pepper should be studied instead.

The New Mexican chile is a hybrid from two seeds: The New Mexico seed and Sandia seed.

Hatch peppers thrive in New Mexico deserts. Espanola variety, on the other hand, does well in high-altitude environments and can grow for a short period of time. That makes it an ideal candidate for growing and harvesting outside of Earth. 

Matthew W. Romeyn, the lead scientist on the fruiting plant project, also shared the plus side to having Española Improved aboard the space station. In an emailed statement, he said:

“As a bonus, the Española Improved is one of the few chile pepper cultivars from the Hatch Valley that is also regularly consumed red, so we can leave it to the crew to decide if they would like their chile peppers green or to wait for the fruit to fully ripen to red,”

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