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Space Tomatoes A Mystery Nearly as Vast as the Universe


In a fall interview upon returning from the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio recounted a captivating mission anecdote. After harvesting one of the first tomatoes cultivated in space and preparing it for a presentation, Rubio discovered that the bag and its contents had mysteriously disappeared. The fellow astronauts playfully accused Rubio of consuming the missing fruit. However, in a surprising turn of events eight months later, at the start of December, the lost tomato resurfaced. A NASA-shared photo revealed that the rogue sample actually contained two tomatoes, and all things considered, they appeared to be in decent condition.

Unlike a decaying tomato on Earth, Rubio’s tomatoes seemed a bit dried out. NASA noted in a blog post, “Apart from some discoloration, there was no visible microbial or fungal growth.”

NASA has been conducting extensive experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) to explore methods of growing food and understand the impact of the space environment on plant development. The cultivation of red dwarf tomatoes was part of the eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) program, employing a blend of hydroponic and aeroponic techniques rather than traditional soil. During his record-breaking 371-day stay on the ISS, astronaut Frank Rubio harvested a batch of these tomatoes in March. The tomatoes were intended for Earth return and examination as part of the VEG-05 study.

Regarding a sample Rubio held onto for an educational event with schoolchildren, he reported that the tomatoes inexplicably disappeared. Despite his confidence in securing them with Velcro as intended, the astronaut spent “eight to 20 hours” searching for them without success. The recently rediscovered tomatoes have been discarded, prompting curiosity about their mysterious location during the period they were missing. Attempts to obtain more information from NASA are underway, and any updates will be included in this story once available.

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