NASA to grow chilli peppers in space to prepare for Mars mission

Enlarge Image					
				Composite Shutterstock

Enlarge Image Composite Shutterstock

"We were looking for varieties that don't grow too tall, and yet are very productive in the controlled environments that we would be using in space", NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler said.

Picking plants to grow in space - especially when it comes to potential food options for future missions - has to be done carefully.

A group of researchers at NASA is preparing for the final steps to launch the Española chile pepper into space in November.

The space agency believes traditional prepackaged meals will not provide enough vitamins and nutrients for astronauts on a journey to Mars, which would take at least two years. Scientists are working on ways to give astronauts diets with freshly grown fruits and vegetables, such as the Española pepper. And to send astronauts to Mars, it's crucial that the agency find plants and fruits that can travel with them.

Initially, the plan was to grow New Mexico's Hatch peppers until Jacob Torres, a technical and horticultural scientist at NASA, suggested growing Spanish chili peppers instead. If humans begin to travel to other worlds on a regular basis - or even set up shop and live there - we're going to need food and that means finding a way to grow fruits and vegetables in otherworldly environments. Although there are several species of the spicy pepper fruit, the U.S. scientists are going with Española peppers because they can grow in high altitudes and can be easily pollinated.

They also have short growing periods, and they can also be easily pollinated.

When Torres arrived at NASA in 2018 for an internship, scientists were exploring the possibility of growing Hatch peppers, a New Mexico chile. Astronauts have already coaxed plants into growing aboard the ISS by using special types of light and using techniques to help the plants figure out which way is "up" and "down".

Boffins are sending Espanola chilli pepper plants to the International Space Station where they hope to grow and harvest them.