Microgreens On The International Space Station

Astronauts Aren’t Wimps, And They Eat Microgreens

Ever thought about what astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS) eat? Here it is, straight from the mouth of Canadian ISS astronaut, Chris Hadfield:

“Airline food is cooked in an oven and then kept warm. Space station food is often cooked in an oven and then thermo-stabilized, irradiated or dehydrated and then stored for a year or two before you even get to it.”

Cardboard, there’s nothing pleasant about it.

In 2015, the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency, NASA, decided to do something about that. Enter Veg-04B, the Growth of Assorted Microgreens in Microgravity experiment at the ISS studied how microgreens grow in simulated gravity.

Why microgreens, you ask?

Not only do astronauts have STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math), three years of professional training, or 1000 hours in a jet plane, they must learn

  • to fly the spacecraft,
  • about medical procedures,
  • public speaking (yes, the scariest thing on Earth)
  • emergency preparedness,
  • to speak Russian,

and be in top physical condition to pass NASA’s astronaut physical examination.

And that’s only some of what they do to get ready to go to space.

Once they get up into the ISS, they need lots of exercise and lots of nutrients. Brassica microgreens are among the most nutritious food candidates for astronauts. Astronauts aren’t wimps.

NASA has identified, along with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), some of the most nutrient-rich microgreens for sustaining the health and fitness of the most physically and mentally fit persons on the planet.

Learn what they can do for you and your health and longevity.

How Not To Be A Wimp

Over 20 years of research from the International Space Station gives scientists health and nutritional risks for men and women when they are in space for long durations.

These health risks, which can lead to severe psychological stress, and depression of astronauts, include:

  • weight loss,
  • blood disorders (like anemia),
  • cellular damage (from space radiation),
  • protein oxidation,
  • muscle breakdown, and
  • eye damage.

NASA scientists, like the folks at Johns Hopkins University, have concluded astronauts need whole-food-based antioxidants rather than supplements (see my article Why Eat Microgreens).

The Veg-04B space station experiment concluded that microgreens are one of the best sources of whole food nutrition for long-duration spaceflight missions (like Mars) when astronauts cannot obtain regular resupplies of fresh produce from Earth.

Microgreens Nutrition

Traditional crops can take weeks to mature, but microgreens are ready to harvest within two weeks, can be grown in tiny spaces, can be immediately eaten, and have high nutrient concentrations.

NASA Microgreens Video
Figure 2 Video: Space Plants, How Are They Adapting

And, growing microgreens for space flight gives astronaut crews the specific nutrients they need for future exploration missions.

In research at the University of Maryland and the USDA, agricultural scientists have isolated the nutrients that can support space flight, specifically iron, magnesium, potassium, and carotenoids.

Table 1 Average macro-element and micro-element concentrations of select microgreens (mg/100 g Food Weight)

Food As Medicine

Remember your mom telling you to “eat your carrots?”

Suppose you eat whole-food-based food like Red cabbage or Cilantro microgreens. In that case, you get high concentrations of carotenoids essential for human vision.

βeta carotene produces vitamin A, zeaxanthin, and lutein in your body to protect your eyes by absorbing excess light intensity.

All carotenoids protect against cellular damage from radiation exposure.

Magnesium improves bone and heart health for astronauts. It also regulates blood pressure. Together with potassium, magnesium helps prevent kidney stones.

Iron improves anemia, but astronaut levels are higher and must be monitored in crops.

Just like astronauts in space, as we age, our vision deteriorates. So do our cells. We become susceptible to a host of chronic diseases.

Getting microgreens in your diet as part of a whole-food nutrition program is what we teach at Microgreens World. And you can grow them.

Eleven Years and 165,000 Seeds

Forced with small spaces, on the space station, astronauts can grow microgreens in an area as small as 8.0cm (3.14in) x 5.0cm (1.9in), or 40 cm2 (6.2 sq. in)

In their 40 cm2 growth chamber, the crew can harvest about 76g (2.68 oz) every 10-14 days from 1.66 gm of seed.

Microgreens Red Cabbage; Brassica oleracea var. capitata
Amount of seeds 576 (1.66 g)
Space 8.0cm (3.14in) x 5.0cm (1.9in), or 40 cm2 (6.2 sq. in)
Yield 76 g (2.68 oz)

Table 2 Microgreens yields in outer space


At the rate of  26 crops of microgreens a year, they produce about 1.98 kg (4.4 lbs) of microgreens. That’s the equivalent of about 17 four-ounce packs of microgreens, similar to what you would buy in a store. Check out my article, Where To Buy Microgreens.

Check out our Microgreens at True Leaf Market

Now do the math: 1.66 g of seeds x 26 harvests = 43.16 gm per year. It would take the astronauts 11 years and 7 months to use 0.5kg (500 gm) of seeds (165,000).

By the way, in outer space, your taste sensation is reduced. So, astronauts prefer spicy, tangy foods. That’s why red cabbage and the other microgreens on the list in Table 1 were chosen for space flight.

The nutrient levels are excellent, and astronauts preferred them in a taste test.

Things to Consider

Lighting and light color (red versus blue) impact microgreens’ health, yield, and nutritional content. It is best to use full-spectrum LED lighting (reduced heat).

Pre-order “How to Grow Microgreens At Home) (below) to learn how specific lighting can change microgreens’ nutrient levels and flavors.

Microgreens can germinate and grow without soil nutrients. But your microgreens will lack nutrition and taste unless you know what you are doing.

The rapid turnaround time is sensible for any space flight scenario where limited crew time or power, weight, and yield limitations block growing crops to maturity.

And, because of their low gardening maintenance requirements and high water/space-use efficiency, you can grow microgreens on your patio, kitchen counter, or windowsill.

Related Questions

Can microgreens replace my supplements regimen?

Scientists consider microgreens to be live food. They contain greater amounts of nutrients and health-promoting micronutrients than their mature counterparts, up to 40 times more. If you want to learn more about the potency of microgreens, visit my post, Forty Times More: Microgreens, The Superfood of Superfoods.

Do microgreens taste like their adult plants?

Each microgreens vegetable has its own unique taste. And each variety tastes like a clearer flavored (and often more potent) version of the adult plant. Sometimes, they can alter the flavor profile of your meal. If you want to learn more about the tastes of microgreens, visit my post, What Do Microgreens Taste Like?

How do I incorporate the health benefits of microgreens into my nutrition?

I’ve learned a lot about microgreens, how good they are for you, and what you can do with them. Check out my guide, “The Beginner’s Nutritional Guide to Incredible Microgreens.”

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