A funky light show captured this week by astronaut Thomas Pesquet made the International Space Station look more like an orbiting disco than an orbiting laboratory.
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) September 4, 2021
Pesquet was simply having some fun with the colorful LED lights that are part of Veggie, one of the space station’s plant growth facilities.
Astronauts aboard the ISS have been experimenting with plant cultivation in microgravity conditions for nearly a decade. The work is vital if longer missions to the moon, Mars, and possibly beyond are to be achieved, as limited room for supplies means that astronauts will need to grow a supplemental food crop.
The plant-based experiments on the ISS are aiming to find out which crops grow best in space, and whether the unique conditions affect their nutritional value. The different LED lights that are built into Veggie allow the astronauts to see which plants respond best to which wavelengths. NASA said that as plants reflect a lot of green light and use more red and blue wavelengths, the Veggie facility usually glows a magenta pink color.
So far, most of the cultivated plants have been leafy greens such as red romaine lettuce, mizuna mustard greens, and Chinese cabbage, with ISS astronauts already allowed to add them to their space meals. Of course, an entire diet of green leaves won’t sound particularly appealing to astronauts heading to space on extended missions, so other foodstuffs will also be transported by spacecraft — and possibly even a space oven if a permanent base is ever set up on, say, the moon or even Mars. Yes, it means that goodies such as pizza and cookies could also be part of their diet.
Consuming recognizable and fun food during long space missions instead of existing simply on slop squeezed from bags is important for astronauts and can even raise their spirits. Recent ISS crew member Mike Hopkins, who himself worked on cultivating Chinese cabbage during his stay, noted that having access to familiar food while in space offers “a connection to Earth,” adding, “The look, feel, taste, and smell all remind us of life on Earth, and that connection is good for our mental health.”
And while a space disco might also raise spirits, for now the ISS appears set to remain free of such shenanigans.