When the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft finally launches this Monday, it will carry much needed supplies to NASA’s International Space Station. These include the usual consumables that the astronauts need to survive on the ISS. But they also include legs for the Robonaut 2 and a space based vegetable garden.
According to a Friday story on Fox News, the new legs will allow Robonaut 2 to move about the ISS and, eventually, outside on EVAs. Robonaut 2 has been aboard the space station since 2011 and has been performing tasks like turning knobs and flipping switches. The idea is to develop a line of humanoid robots which will assist astronauts in doing routine tasks, either on a space station or on a planetary surface.
The other interesting cargo that the Dragon will be carrying to the ISS, according to a Thursday post on the Space for All blog is a vegetable garden called Veggie. Veggie contains a number of “plant pillows” filled with nutrients that will be placed under LED lights to test the growth of food plants in microgravity. The plants in this case will be red romaine lettuce. The growth of the lettuce will be monitored by the ISS crew. The plants will eventually be returned to Earth for study by scientists.
It is hoped that this kind of home grown food will supplement the diet of astronauts, whether they are on space stations, lunar bases, or on long term deep space missions to destinations like Mars. Plants can also supplement equipment that transforms carbon dioxide that astronauts exhale back into oxygen. Finally having a garden can be a morale booster, not for providing the colors and smells of Earth, but also as a pleasant activity.