Matt Damon's character in The Martian might have been onto something when he grew potatoes on Mars. And if Miami students have their way, future astronauts will grow their own vegetable gardens on their way to the red planet.
This weekend, local students will whip up vegetarian and vegan meals for NASA scientists through the Green Cuisine Challenge at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The project is part of the famous Fairchild Challenge science competition, with the idea being that astronauts will be able to re-create the students' dishes using edible plants grown in space.
Last year, Fairchild started a partnership with NASA where local middle- and high-schoolers worked to cultivate plants that could be used in outer space as a sustainable food supply. The plant-based cooking competition is an extension of that effort.
"The students are very creative, from wraps to salads and desserts, made with fresh ingredients presented with original names," says Marion Litzinger, Fairchild Challenge program manager. "We received some fantastic recipes that students either developed on their own or changed from traditional ones."
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Students were chosen to participate based on individual competitions at their respective schools through Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"This year’s program is themed 'The Voyages of Plants,' from Polynesian canoe plants to a future voyage to Mars. For this challenge, students not only have to consider the culinary aspect but also the calories that ingredients chosen will provide and how much space is needed for them to be grown per square centimeter," Litzinger says. "They received a list of possible plants that are potential candidates for growth in space and were then provided with a calories/square centimeter calculator so that they could incorporate the calculations into their presentation."
Each serving is required to have at least 100 calories and use no more than 250 square centimeters of growing space. The idea is that astronauts could make the dishes themselves while on voyages, and visiting NASA scientists will be taste-testing the creations. "Considering the limitations of a space station with no possibility to cook or wash the vegetables, along with the no-gravity conditions, it's really a challenge," Litzinger adds. "In the future, on longer space journeys, crops will have to be grown fresh to provide the astronauts with the necessary vitamins."
The meals will be debuted this Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at Fairchild's Garden House. The challenge is taking place at the same time as the Spring Garden Festival & Plant Sale, which runs Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.