A HARVEST FROM SPACE A 'non-glowing' report of super tomato production


My kids, never adventurous eaters to begin with, have flatly refused to take so much as a bite.

My husband says sure, he'll try one, but I don't notice him doing it.

Although it's been a month since the first harvest, I'm the only one in my family who has dared to chomp into a space tomato.

And I'm still alive to tell the story. Alive, and not even glowing.

This spring, not long after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration gave teachers tomato seeds that had orbited the earth for six years, word got around that the tomatoes that grew from these seeds might not be safe to eat.

It caused quite a flurry. Somehow the presshad gotten hold of an internal NASA memo that suggested the "remote possibility that radiation-caused mutation could cause the plants to produce toxic fruit." NASA downplayed the danger, emphasizing how small the chances were that there could be anything health-threatening related to eating the tomatoes. But the space agency also was quite careful not to recommend that anyone actually include space tomatoes in their diet.

And the damage was done. The space tomatoes -- part of a NASA project to see whether orbiting in space would affect seed growth -- would forever be referred to in news reports as "killer tomatoes." Concerned about possible liability, some teachers scuttled their planned experiments; others began the seeds in school butwouldn't let students take the plants home to continue growing them.

After a slow start, the plants I grew -- which were begun by students at Garrison Forest School and Norrisville Elementary School -- have flourished. In fact, the two Garrison Forest space plants have considerably outpaced the earth control plants, which have been nurtured in exactly the same environment. One morning last week I picked 34 space tomatoes, compared with only 19 earth tomatoes. So this phase of the experiment does seem to suggest that whatever happened to those seeds out in space somehow boosted their production potential.

The space tomatoes themselves seem identical to their earth controls. I did get one report from a reader who also grew space tomatoes in her garden. Rabbits, she said, were chomping away at her earth tomatoes while assiduously avoiding the space tomatoes right next to them. Rabbits, thankfully, stay out of my garden, but the slugs that proliferated during the wet weeks of August did not discriminate between earth and space tomatoes.

Like the slugs, I never had any hesitation about eating the tomatoes. This comes from an inherent trust that there couldn't be anything wrong with something I have grown in my own garden.

The tomato I sampled was red, firm yet juicy, tart and tasty, just what you'd expect. It was wonderful. I'd eat another -- and probably will. There are plenty of them.

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