How astronauts on the ISS are growing crops without soil

In order to enable long-term space missions, it’s important for astronauts to be able to grow their own food — for both their physical and mental health. There are a number of experiments into growing crops on the International Space Station (ISS), but recently astronauts there have been harvesting from an unusual setup: one which uses no soil.

Other systems for growing crops on the ISS typically use growth media such as clay-like materials in place of soil to allow plants to grow. But the XROOTS system uses no growth media at all, but uses using hydroponic (water-based) and aeroponic (air-based) methods instead. This is important because growth media or soil can be messy and hard to maintain, and could be potentially unsanitary.

Standing for eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System, the XROOTS system was delivered to the ISS in February this year and integrated into the station’s Veggie system. This week astronaut Jessica Watkins began the process of harvesting radishes and mizuna greens from XROOTS on Friday, June 24.

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