This story is a staff report from The Paper.

Astronaut Megan McArthur shows off space-grown Hatch chiles, Nov 2021

When NASA wanted to spice up the menu for astronauts aboard the International Space Station, they knew exactly where to turn: New Mexico.

Chile seeds arrived at the Space Station aboard SpaceX’s 22nd commercial resupply services mission in June, and NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough planted them in one of the ISS’ three crop growing chambers.

Four months later, they were able to harvest their crop and add them to space tacos using fajita beef, rehydrated tomatoes and artichokes, and the hatch chile grown on the ISS.

The reviews from the astronauts were, well, out of this world.

While getting delicious chile in space may have been the primary goal of the astronauts used to rehydrated meals, NASA also had a scientific goal in mind.

It is the first time NASA astronauts will cultivate a crop of chile peppers on the station from seeds to maturity, according to a release from NASA. The experiment allowed for crew to eat some of the chile and send the rest back to Earth for analysis, as long as all the data indicates they are safe for the crew to eat.

“It is one of the most complex plant experiments on the station to date because of the long germination and growing times,” said Matt Romeyn, principal investigator for PH-04. “We have previously tested flowering to increase the chance for a successful harvest because astronauts will have to pollinate the peppers to grow fruit.”

Before selecting a cultivar to grow aboard the space station, researchers spent two years evaluating more than two dozen pepper varieties from around the world. They narrowed it down and selected the NuMex ‘Española Improved’ pepper, a hybrid Hatch pepper, the generic name for several varieties of chiles from Hatch, New Mexico, and the Hatch Valley in southern New Mexico.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham made sure her fellow governor to the north – who has (incorrectly) argued that Colorado makes better chile – got the news.