Illustration by Chris Philpot

A MISSION TO MARS is still a decade away, but scientists at NASA already plan to stock it with green chile. Why? We could say because it tastes so good, but the answer is more basic than that. “Astronauts need vitamin C,” says Paul Bosland, founder of New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute.   

Chile is chock-full of C, as well as beta-carotene and antioxidants, plus a handful of micronutrients. To get their daily C quotient, astronauts will need to know how to grow their own during the three-year round-trip to Mars. And the only pepper for the job is green chile, according to NASA’s scientists. 

But not just any green chile. The plant has to be small, fruitful, fast-maturing, not too spicy, and capable of being farmed in-flight.   

Jacob Torres, a technical and horticultural scientist at the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, was working as a NASA intern in 2018. “I noticed they were talking about New Mexico chiles and I was like, ‘I’m from New Mexico!’ ” he says.   

Torres spent his early years growing chile and other produce with his family in Española. From his NASA internship, he quickly became a member of the veggie team and recommended a variety from northern New Mexico because it matures the quickest.  

The NuMex Española Improved (a hybrid from the Chile Pepper Institute) checked all the boxes and will be the first fruit grown in space, Torres says. But first the plant is slated for a 2024 “Hatch to ISS” mission, hitching a ride on SpaceX to the International Space Station to grow in its Advanced Plant Habitat. A mission to Mars will commence around 2030, rocketing a global favorite to interplanetary fame.

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Read more from our "Ultimate Guide to New Mexico Chile"

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