China’s Shenzhou 16 astronauts have been growing their own food in Earth orbit.
Mission commander Jing Haipeng and rookie astros Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao have been cultivating vegetables as part of their science experiment workload aboard the Tiangong space station.
The trio have been using a “space garden” cultivation device designed by researchers of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center.
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The device controls temperature, humidity, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to create environments tailored for plant growth.
The Shenzhou-16 astronauts’ “vegetable garden” is upside down in the space station with respect to Earth.
In the future, the “space garden” will not only provide food, oxygen and water for the astronauts, but also serve as an experiment platform to study the effects of special environments, such as space microgravity, on the growth of plants, according to CCTV+.
The Shenzhou 14 mission crew grew Thale cress and other plants during their time aboard Tiangong. Meanwhile, Tiangong also currently harbors at least 100 types of seeds. These will be exposed to cosmic radiation and returned to Earth for study. Scientists hope to isolate beneficial mutations to improve crop strains.
The Shenzhou 16 crew are also far from needing to grow their own food. The astronauts have a variety of 120 dishes to enjoy while on orbit, thanks to deliveries by Tianzhou cargo spacecraft.
China completed constructing the three-module Tiangong in late 2022. Shenzhou 16 launched on May 29, replacing the Shenzhou 15 crew. Jing and compnany will themselves hand over control of the orbital outpost to the incoming, as yet unnamed Shenzhou 17 crew sometime in November.