Chinese astronauts, or taikonauts, aboard the Shenzhou-16 mission, have successfully harvested fresh vegetables in space.
The crew, which launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on May 30 has been tending to two vegetable gardens that now yield lettuce, spring onions, and cherry tomatoes.
The Shenzhou-16 mission, China’s fifth manned mission to its space station since 2021, is part of the country’s ambitious space program. The crew, comprising Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu, and Gui Haichao, took over from the Shenzhou-15 astronauts who had been aboard China’s newly completed Tiangong space station since November 2022. Gui Haichao, a professor at China’s prestigious aeronautics institution Beihang University, is the first Chinese civilian to be on a spaceflight.
The cultivation device used for the vegetable planting experiment was designed by researchers from the China Astronaut Research and Training Center.
This simple modular device with an open structure can adjust temperature, humidity, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels to create environments needed for plant growth, similar to those for the taikonauts in the cabin. It allows the taikonauts to tend to the plants at any time, ensuring their healthy growth in the space environment.
The successful harvest is not only a source of fresh food for the taikonauts but also serves as an experiment platform to study the effects of special environments, such as space microgravity, on the growth of plants and other biochemical factors.
So far, a total of 110 research and application projects have been undertaken on China’s space station, covering areas such as microgravity physics and new space technology.
The Shenzhou-16 crew is scheduled to complete their mission and return to Earth next month. Before their return, they will continue their scientific cultivation and research, contributing to the understanding of sustainable life in space.
Nasa and European astronauts have also been successful in cultivating vegetables on the International Space Station in a move to study crop development in zero gravity.