In the framework of the HUNOR - Hungarian Astronaut Program, researchers from the University of Debrecen are working on the development of systems for food production in long-duration space missions. Experts from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food Science and Environmental Management are working with indigenous, home-bred pepper varieties to enable astronauts to grow and eat fresh, juicy and crunchy vegetables with zero emission during space missions.

In the VEGBOX TS research project, experts from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food Science and Environmental Management (MÉK) at the University of Debrecen (DE) are carrying out a series of innovative space horticultural developments and scientific experiments.

- At the university, there have been programmes dealing with the ground processing of samples sent into and returned from space since the 1970s, and several working groups are still working in the framework of DE SPACE, the university's space research program. The Faculty of Agriculture's decades-long breeding programme has now reached the stage where peppers grown by UD can be tested on the International Space Station to see how suitable they are for cultivation in space," said László Csernoch, Vice-Rector for Science at the University of Debrecen, at a press conference to present the programme.

The head of the space research program stressed that the centre of the breeding programme is UD’s biotechnology-based greenhouse, Biodrome, where peppers are grown using closed technologies. The plants grown here will be used to select the varieties that astronauts can eat in space.

- In the DE-SPACE space food team, we have carried out a number of research activities related to plant breeding. The crops on which our studies are based were mainly grown in outdoor areas, but the space program has provided an opportunity to test the complex research infrastructure and human resources in indoor crop production., We want to involve a wide range of specialists in the VEGBOX TS program in the long term: physicists, biologists and doctors," said Szilvia Veres, Deputy Dean of Science at DE MÉK, coordinator of the programme.

Miklós Fári, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Applied Plant Biology at DE MÉK, stressed that the primary goal of the program is to breed peppers that can grow in space, in micro- or even zero gravity.

- It is important that all parts of the Hungarian space pepper can be used: its leaves, rich in bioactive substances, are suitable for human consumption, and its stems can be used to feed insects," the research coordinator stressed.

Miklós Fári also reported that in the VEGBOX TS program, experts are also working on the development of a new experimental space plant-growing tool, which could lay the foundations for the development of special integrated circular crop production techniques in microgravity. The project will also include testing seed treatment, seedling nursery and cultivation technologies, as well as the development of green biomass crops suitable for space bioprocessing. In this area, experts working for Debrecen University are also conducting research on other space crop candidates, such as indigenously bred special alfalfa, giant grasses and velvet varieties producing special bioactive substances.

Press centre - ÉE