Wisconsin Helps Potatoes Become First Vegetable Grown in Space

Published online: Jun 21, 2014 Seed Potatoes
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There’s nothing better than eating fresh, locally grown potatoes and vegetables. Why shouldn’t astronauts have the same opportunity while in space for long periods of time? They do—thanks to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and NASA.

In October 1995, the two agencies partnered to help tubers become the first vegetable to be grown in space, which has been an “answer to growing more and better potatoes worldwide,” according to NASA.

Creating these “Quantum Tubers” involved “combining an agricultural technique from China with controlled environment technologies originally developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison for plant growth in space,” NASA says in a statement. It was American Ag-Tec International, Ltd., of Delavan, Wis, then that produced the tubers.

According to Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) executive director Duane Maatz, this is a milestone that “really puts Wisconsin on the map and shows the technological advances that have and continue to come out of our state.”

Astronauts tested seed potato production aboard the space shuttle Columbia in its Astroculture plant growth facility. “American Ag-Tec International’s development of Quantum Tubers resulted from a NASA-sponsored Commercial Space Center located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” says NASA. And with space centers like this, other companies were able to create products from space-based research.  

It’s an interesting fact about America’s favorite vegetable, and one that just may have you admiring your next plate of spuds all the more.