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Why NASA enlisted Tupperware to help it grow vegetables in space

Tupperware is finalizing the modules so they can be mass-manufactured for future spaceflights—as well as our own kitchen countertops.

Why NASA enlisted Tupperware to help it grow vegetables in space
[Illustration: Michele Marconi]

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As astronauts begin to spend more time in space, they’ll need better access to fresh fruits and vegetables to stay healthy. But growing plants on structures like the International Space Station is no small task: If you were to try to water them in the conventional fashion, droplets would go everywhere. To develop a new planter, NASA tapped Techshot, a company that develops equipment for human spaceflight, and Tupperware, a company with decades of experience in mass-producing food-safe plastics. Harnessing the way plants naturally absorb water through soil (a process called capillary action), the new Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS) requires astronauts to use a syringe to insert about 17 fluid ounces of water into the planter’s base. Then, feltlike mats slowly absorb water and distribute it right to the seedling while it is establishing roots in a nutrient-rich claylike material called arcillite, which is typically found on baseball diamonds.

NASA launched seven PONDS modules to the International Space Station in April 2018, where the astronauts used them to grow red romaine lettuce. A year later, NASA launched 12 more pods that the Tupperware team had refined further, addressing feedback from the astronauts, such as that the pods had been providing too much water to the seedlings. Now, Tupperware is finalizing the modules so they can be mass-manufactured for future spaceflights—as well as our own kitchen countertops. “If we can grow fresh fruits and veggies in the kitchen that people can harvest immediately, that’s right on trend,” says David Kusuma, head of research and product innovation at Tupperware.

A version of this article appeared in the October 2019 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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