Chile blazes a new path - Albuquerque Journal

Chile blazes a new path

A New Mexico green chile pepper floats as Expedition 66 crew members aboard the International Space Station taste the crop grown in space. New Mexico Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte thanked the NASA team on Friday for their work promoting the state’s iconic crop. (Courtesy of NASA)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico chile is out of this world. No, really.

NASA scientists and state agriculture experts gathered virtually on Friday to celebrate the team that grew New Mexico chile aboard the International Space Station.

A group of “Hatchstronauts” harvested the peppers last fall.

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur spent 200 days aboard the ISS and helped cultivate the cosmic crop.

McArthur said it was “a joy” to have green, growing plants in the sparse, mechanical space station environment.

The chile crop also spiced up the astronauts’ diet with taco night.

“We had them for dinner, for breakfast, as much as we could until they were all gone,” McArthur said.

Jacob Torres, a NASA scientist from Española who worked on the project, said it was the longest-ever plant experiment in space.

It also yielded the most product from any space farming venture.

“As we evaluated the crop or the fruit that we could grow, it evolved that peppers would be good option for the way that they pollinate and the way that they grow and their nutrient content,” Torres said.

The team ate all the peppers from the first harvest in October.

A green chile pepper being grown aboard the International Space Station. The New Mexico chile grew for months, and was harvested and eaten by NASA astronauts. (Courtesy of NASA)

In the second harvest, the crew ate some chile, then saved a dozen peppers for NASA tests.

Fruits are a good source of vitamins for astronauts on long space missions.

Growing crops may also prove to be good for the crew’s mental health.

“These are the building blocks for the missions that we’re going to be doing in the future,” McArthur said. “We’re going to be going farther from home, we’re going to be in more isolating conditions, and it’s going to be even longer till we get back. And so this kind of thing that connects us to our home planet is going to be even more important.”

The plant habitat was controlled remotely from Kennedy Space Center.

Scientists used fans to create a breeze and help the plants pollinate and produce fruit.

Space station crew also hand-pollinated some flowers.

McArthur tried her own experiment of sorts, playing Red Hot Chili Peppers songs to the growing plants.

New Mexico State University developed the hybrid pepper that was grown in space.

The NuMex Española Improved Pepper is a hybrid of the Hatch Sandia and the Española varieties.

Torres and the team visited New Mexico farms and grew several types of crops on Earth before deciding on chile for the space mission.

“For students and kids who are trying to think about what they’re going to do with their future, that they can see us growing peppers in space is just amazing,” Torres said.

State Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte thanked the team for bringing New Mexico chile to new heights.

“You’re creating that opportunity to really expand the reach of agriculture and food and human habitat by doing these experiments in space,” Witte said. “You’re really blazing the trail for that next generation.”

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur tends to a crop of New Mexico chile grown on the International Space Station. The project was the longest-ever plant experiment in space. (Courtesy of NASA)
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