Big Pic: A Prettier Greenhouse For Growing Veggies In Space

This is the largest structure people have sent to space for growing edibles.

A Vegetable Production System 'Plant Pillow'

NASA/Bryan Onate

The latest design for growing vegetables in space is a bit prettier than its predecessors. This is a collapsible growth chamber made by Orbital Technologies Corporation in Wisconsin. The lettuces inside live in individual "plant pillows." NASA plans to send the chamber and the plant pillows to the International Space Station on April 14, aboard a SpaceX launch.

The growth chamber is not made of iridescent pink tulle, although it looks that way here. Its sides are pleated white plastic. That means it's able to collapse into a flat shape for travel. Once it reaches the International Space Station, astronauts can open it to use it and stretch it up to a foot and a half in height as the plants inside grow. Astronauts can also push the sides down completely to observe their plants.

The structure comes with red, blue and green LEDs for the plants. Those lights make the white walls look pink in this picture.

Russian cosmonauts have grown a number of crops aboard the International Space Station using a stiff-sided greenhouse with removable trays. This new growing unit will be the largest ever put into space, so astronauts can try growing more and larger vegetables. For the April 14 flight, the veggie pillows will carry romaine lettuce seedlings of the "Outredgeous" variety.

A 28-Day-Old Outredgeous Lettuce Seedling in a Plant Pillow

NASA/Gioia Massa