It has been one of the greatest mysteries of the universe – the disappearance of the first tomato grown in space.
That is, until this week, when the seven astronauts on the International Space Station announced on the 25th anniversary of the orbiter that they found the rogue fruit.
“Well, we might have found something that someone had been looking for for a while,” revealed NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli.
The tomato was the first to be harvested and grown in space. It was cultivated in March by American astronaut Frank Rubio, whofor longest spaceflight at 370 days.
The red robin tomato was harvested as part of a NASA experiment grow produce in space for long-duration missions in the future. Rubio said it was a proud moment, right up until the day he lost track of the fresh, meaty food — a commodity up in space.
“I think I harvested what was the first tomato in space and I put it in a little bag,” Rubio recalled in a NASA interview in October. He said he ended up taking the tomato out of the safety of the Ziploc bag to show some students the prized produce, but appeared to have misplaced it afterward.
“I was pretty sure I put it with Velcro where I was supposed to put it with Velcro, and then I came back and it was gone,” the scientist said.
Rubio said he spent about 18 to 20 hours unsuccessfully looking for the tomato, assuming it would have “dried to the point where you couldn’t tell what it was” and may have been thrown in the trash at an accident.
Due to the weightless nature of space, any object that is unsecured or not tethered down is likely to float away. And in the ISS, which is greater than one six bedroom housethere are certainly plenty of good hiding places for a lone tomato.
In the months since the juicy piece of produce disappeared, some suspected that Rubio actually ate the tomato — a claim he denied until it was found.
“Hopefully someone will find it one day, a little shriveled thing in a Ziploc bag, and they can prove I didn’t eat the tomato in space,” he half-joked, half-manifested in October.
And Moghbeli was indeed quick to clear Rubio’s name after announcing the discovery.
“Our good friend, Frank Rubio, who went home, has been blamed for a while for eating the tomato, but we can exonerate him,” she said.
Moghbeli didn’t offer details on where the tomato was found or what condition it was in. But it’s probably safe to assume it won’t be featured in a gourmet meal anytime soon.