NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Mission accomplished; New Mexico chile now grows in space. A SpaceX rocket carried New Mexico chile seeds to the International Space Station in June as part of a NASA experiment studying plant growth. After 109 days, astronauts finally got to try their first harvest. One red pepper and the rest, green. 

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“The goal of this PHo4, plant habitat experiment was to grow the first fruit in space, this being an Espanola pepper and also demonstrate the capability of the advanced plant habitat to grow, cultivate a crop for long durations in this case over 100 days,” said LaShelle Spencer, lead horticultural scientist.

The peppers combine varieties from Hatch and Espanola and were developed at New Mexico State University. After the crew sampled some, the others will be sent back to earth for analysis.

This study is helping add to NASA’s knowledge of growing food crops for long space missions. Scientists are finding ways to supplement nutrients that commonly degrade in prepackaged food over time. 

Jacob Torres is an engineering plant scientist from New Mexico working in the labs. “A piece of our culture, something that is a major part of us, became the first fruit grown in space today and not only that but it has our name on, Hatch and then Espanola, New Mexico, all in one,” says Torres. “I think that New Mexico should just be so excited because you know what we’re included this time and we’re leading the charge.” 

Even though the mission was accomplished, it wasn’t an easy ride. There were some issues with flower development and the transition from flower to a young fruit slowed down progress, but in the end, scientists were able to hold onto the fruit and make it to harvest.

The final harvest of chile peppers is planned for November 26. Researchers at Kennedy Space Center spent two years evaluating more than two dozen pepper varieties from around the world before selecting the pepper from New Mexico.