By Corey Cook, Washington Post
Three astronauts have ventured outside the International Space Station for the first time, and a capsule full of sprouts as well as the bunches of fresh chiles they’d been packed inside made it back to Earth.
The crew of Expedition 53 opened the hatch of the station’s brand-new Node 4 last Wednesday. This is the first time all three of the new modules – of which Node 4 is part – have been opened for more than just maintenance, according to NASA.
In the new cupola, with its front windows aiming at Earth and a row of angled glass screens, astronauts Tom Marshburn, Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra, as well as flight engineer Terry Virts, watched the space station’s 500-pound robot arm, Canadarm2, help load up the 4.1-pound space bell peppers. It’s the first time anyone has managed this, NASA said.
“We’ve been a big fan of chili peppers back here on the International Space Station,” Kelly said in a video from space. “We get a lot of fresh chiles. And frankly, a chili pepper hot pepper would be hard to beat.”
Capriac peppers, used as chilies, are typically fewer than 3 grams.
The crew called the flowering pepper “lime green,” Kopra said, because of the orange seeds and the tortilla-like cotton spindles beneath it. Each pepper’s seeds and spindles are about 4 centimeters wide and 2.5 centimeters long. The seeds contain 57 seeds and all 11 saplings. The spindles, which can be rotated, come in pairs.
Flight engineer Tim Kopra uses a camera attached to the Canadarm2 on the International Space Station to capture a photo of the spice to pack inside the new space bean.
Perched on top of the peppers is 3,000 California navel oranges – a fruit that originated in New York and is officially known as Empire navel oranges, or Empire navel oranges with some of their seeds removed. The fruit’s seeds are now preserved on the outside of the module and will go into a brewing container and then be used in a Venezuelan soda product.
NASA officials said they chose a peppers rather than navel oranges, which were already packed, because they are environmentally friendly and would go better if brought back as pods, rather than oranges.
The launch of the pod collection made it back to Earth smoothly on Friday morning, NASA said, and it landed safely near the Pacific Ocean, in the Australian state of Queensland.
Kopra attached the capsule’s parachute to the back of the capsule before pulling a cord and dropping it onto a grid of parachute anchors.
Mission Control didn’t ask why the capsule exploded during landing.
The crew’s motto from Wednesday was also their motto from this past weekend: “Houston, we have a problem.”
But astronauts are in with a team of scientists and engineers analyzing what went wrong with this particular module, figuring out what gave the springs of their capsule a sudden jerk or glitch that triggered it to fly backwards off the station and do so over an area they had no intentions of landing in.
This mission had been planned to last for one month but included an unexpected final two-week hiccup, which NASA said was the result of flawed parts on the module’s propellant tank. Marshburn and Kopra were not on that mission. It wasn’t clear if they’d be able to fly in again this year.
Kopra will remain onboard the station. He will be replaced on the Expedition 53 by Kjell Lindgren, who will fly for the SpaceX company, beginning in March.