As astronauts begin to spend more time in space, they will need better access to fresh fruits and vegetables to stay healthy. But growing plants on structures like the International Space Station is no small task: If you were to try watering them in the conventional fashion, droplets would go everywhere. To develop a new planter, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) tapped Techshot, a company that develops equipment for human spaceflight, and Tupperware, a company with decades of experience in mass-producing food-safe plastics. Harnessing the way plants naturally absorb water through soil (a process called capillary action), the new Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS) requires astronauts to use a syringe to insert about 17 fluid ounces (around 503 millilitres) of water into the planter’s base. Then, felt-like mats slowly absorb water and distribute it right to the seedling while it establishes roots in a nutrient-rich, clay-like material called arcillite, which is typically found on baseball diamonds.
NASA launched seven PONDS modules to the International Space Station in April 2018, where the astronauts used them to grow red romaine lettuce. A year later, NASA launched 12 more pods that the Tupperware team had refined further, addressing feedback from the astronauts, such as that the pods had been providing
too much water to the seedlings. Now, Tupperware is finalising the modules so they can be mass-manufactured for future spaceflights—as well as our own kitchen countertops. “If we can grow fresh fruits and veggies in the kitchen that people can harvest immediately, that’s right on trend,” says David Kusuma, head of research and product innovation at Tupperware.
Article originally appeared in Fast Company SA‘s December/January issue, now on sale.