Space Station’s Runaway Tomato Found After Months

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio checks tomato plants inside the International Space Station in October 2022.

At least one of the great mysteries of the universe has finally been solved: the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) reports that a previously thought-lost tomato has reappeared.

According to the Guardian, the cosmic vegetable in question is a tomato that U.S. astronaut Francisco “Frank” Rubio grew from seeds as part of an agricultural experiment in zero gravity.

Rubio had long been accused of eating the fruit when it mysteriously disappeared more than eight months ago. However, the tiny specimen, or at least its remains, have now been found, as members of the seven-person crew announced this week in a live stream commemorating the 25th anniversary of the outpost in orbit.

They did not disclose where and in what condition they found the approximately 2.5-centimeter dwarf tomato on the space station.

But No Tomato Thief

Rubio, who returned to Earth in September after spending a record-breaking 371 days in space, longer than any other US astronaut, is likely to have been relieved by the news of the discovery. After his landing, he expressed concerns about being forever branded as a tomato thief.

“Hopefully, someone will find this little shriveled thing one day,” he told reporters, claiming to have searched for up to 20 hours after it went missing during his harvest. “I was pretty sure I had attached it in the right place. But when I came back, it was gone.”

One of Only Twelve Successfully Germinated Tomatoes

The project to which the tomato belongs is officially known as Veg-05. The abbreviation stands for “Investigating the Productivity, Nutrient Content, and Acceptability of Salad Plants to Supplement the ISS Food System.” The space lettuce growing experiment aims to expand knowledge about the nutrition of astronauts during long missions.

In addition to evaluating the viability and the effects of space travel on the growth of edible plants under different light conditions, the experiment also includes taste tests and a survey to determine whether interacting with plants in the space environment has positive psychological effects or otherwise influences their mood.

The Rubio tomato was one of only twelve red dwarfs that successfully germinated and matured in space as part of the Veg-05 project, compared to more than 100 in a parallel experiment on Earth, according to NASA.