Outer space isn’t exactly the most hospitable environment for botany, despite what the movie The Martian would have us believe, but this lucky New Mexico chili plant, selected by NASA, gets to be launched to the International Space Station in March 2020. The chili, from Española, New Mexico, will be part of NASA’s research on how to produce food outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Jacob Torres, an Española native and NASA researcher, said that the point of sending the chili plant into space is to prove that NASA’s Advanced Plant Habitat works for fruiting crops, as well as leafy greens. It would be the first fruiting plant grown by the US aboard the Space Station.
“If we do go on a deep space mission,” Torres said, “or we do go to the moon or a mission to Mars, we will have to figure out a way to supplement our diets. Understanding how to grow plants to supplement the astronaut’s diet would be essential to our mission to going to Mars. So that kind of fuels our research that we’re doing now.”
The plant itself is a hybrid of the northern New Mexico seed and the Sandia seed and was chosen because of its shorter growth cycle and ability to thrive in small confines.
According to Matthew W Romeyn, NASA’s lead scientist on the project, “As a bonus, the Española Improved is one of the few chili 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 chili peppers green or to wait for the fruit to fully ripen to red.”