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These tomatoes were lost on the International Space Station for almost a year

In an interview this fall following his return to Earth from the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio shared a little mission anecdote that had us gripped: after he’d harvested one of the first tomatoes grown in space and bagged it up for a presentation, the bag and its contents went missing. With no trace of the fruit, the other astronauts jokingly accused Rubio of eating it. Then, eight months later at the beginning of December, the lost tomato reappeared. A photo shared by NASA now shows there were actually two tomatoes in the rogue sample — and, all things considered, they don’t look half bad.

While a tomato left to rot on Earth isn’t a pleasant thing to come across, Rubio’s tomatoes just look a bit dried out. “Other than some discoloration, it had no visible microbial or fungal growth,” NASA wrote in a blog post.

NASA has for years been experimenting with ways to grow food on the ISS and studying how the space environment affects plant growth. The red dwarf tomatoes were grown as part of a program called the eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System, or XROOTS, which uses a combination of hydroponic and aeroponic techniques instead of soil. Rubio, who was on the ISS for a record-breaking 371 days before his return in September 2023, harvested a batch of the tomatoes in March to be sent back to Earth and examined for the VEG-05 study.

As for the sample Rubio hung onto, which he intended to show to schoolkids in an event a crewmember had planned, the astronaut said the tomatoes simply disappeared. “I was pretty confident that I Velcroed it where I was supposed to Velcro it, and then I came back and it was gone,” he said. Rubio said he spent “eight to 20 hours” looking for it, to no avail. Now that they’ve turned up (and since been thrown away), we’re just dying to know where they were hiding all that time. We’ve reached out to NASA and will update this story if we find out any more information.

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