Chile in space

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Sacks of dried red chile pods are shown at the Hatch Chile Sales shop along the main street of the self-proclaimed “Chile Capital of the World” in Hatch, New Mexico. A hybrid version of a New Mexico chile plant has been selected to be grown in space as part of a NASA experiment, officials recently announced.

ESPANOLA, N.M. — It’ll be one giant leap for chile-kind.

A hybrid version of a New Mexico chile plant has been selected to be grown in space as part of a NASA experiment.

The chile, from Espanola, New Mexico, is tentatively scheduled to be launched to the International Space Station for testing this month.

A NASA group testing how to produce food beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and the chile plant was created with input from Jacob Torres — an Espanola native and NASA researcher.

Torres said the point of sending the chiles into space is to demonstrate how NASA’s Advanced Plant Habitat — which recreates environmental needs for plant growth — works not only for leafy greens, but for fruiting crops, as well.

“Which means that if we do go on a deep space mission, or we do go to the moon or a mission to Mars, we will have to figure out a way to supplement our diets,” he said. “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 “Espanola Improved” chile plant is a cross between a northern New Mexico seed and the popular Sandia seed from the Hatch Valley. It will be the first fruiting plant that the U.S. will grow aboard the Space Station.

NASA’s astronauts have previously grown greens, and a zinnia bloomed in space in 2016.

Matthew W. Romeyn, NASA’s lead scientist on the pepper project, said the group chose the Espanola-Sandia hybrid because of the shorter growth cycle, as well as its ability to thrive within the smaller confines of the Advanced Plant Habitat. The growth period may be longer in space.

Chiles could even boost morale, Torres said, when astronauts have something tasty and different from the pre-packaged meals.

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