Israeli researchers have successfully grown chickpeas in space for the first time, raising the prospect of hummus on the menu for missions to the Moon.
The majority of the 28 chickpea seeds that were sent to the International Space Station earlier this month germinated, giving food for thought over the future nourishment of astronauts.
The latest results show that the ones on the space station grew slightly faster than the ones planted on Earth as part of a controlled experiment.
Called the Space Hummus experiment, it was also meant to test a miniature greenhouse that the legume crop is sprouting in.
The technology is working efficiently so far, with the crop growing in a special nutrition-filled gel instead of soil.
“We have private individuals that would like to land on the Moon and the obvious question is what are these astronauts going to eat? I think this is where the combination of faith engineering and biophysics can really propel us forward,” Yonatan Winetraub, co-founder of SpaceIL, the organisation behind Israel’s mission to the Moon, told The National when the experiment was first sent to space.
“The purpose of this particular experiment is a trial run of this greenhouse technology. What we want to do is grow those chickpeas in zero gravity in preparation of growing them on the Moon in a couple of years.”
Mr Weintraub is leading the experiment, along with scientists and engineers from Israel and Stanford University.
For now, astronauts eat dehydrated food that is stored in packets. Growing their own crops could add more nutrition to their diet if they go on long-duration missions to the Moon, and the process is more sustainable.
“Hummus is a great food with a highly efficient value. It is a good candidate for this experiment, but I also think that it combines cultures,” Mr Winetraub said.
“It is a type of food that is really common in the Middle East and throughout the world. I think it also has a really cool culture around it.”
So far, Nasa has grown three types of lettuce, Chinese cabbage, mizuna mustard, red Russian kale and zinnia flowers on the space station.
The chickpea crops will be sent back to Earth in June to allow Mr Winetraub and his team to measure the results.