NASA astronaut Frank Rubio can finally breathe a sigh of relief – the long-lost space tomato that he was accused of eating has been found on the International Space Station. The tomato, a Red Robin dwarf tomato, went missing earlier this year, prompting his colleagues to jokingly accuse him of scarfing it down.
The tomato was actually grown as part of NASA’s VEG-05 project, which studies how plants grow in microgravity. The project aims to understand crop growth, nutrient composition, microbial food safety, flavor, and psychological benefits for the crew onboard the ISS. In addition to tomatoes, the project has successfully grown several types of lettuce, Chinese cabbage, mizuna mustard, red Russian kale, and zinnia flowers in space.
After the tomato harvest last March, each astronaut was given a tomato sample in a Ziploc bag, with instructions not to eat the fruit due to concerns about potential fungal contamination. Unfortunately, the tomato managed to float away from Rubio, leading to months of playful accusations from his fellow astronauts.
Now, with the tomato’s discovery, Rubio can finally prove his innocence. “Our good friend Frank Rubio, who headed home, has been blamed for quite a while for eating the tomato,” NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli said during a livestream. “But we can exonerate him. We found the tomato.”
Rubio himself has been adamant that he was not the one who ate the tomato. “I did not eat the tomato, and I wish I had at this point because I think everybody thinks I did,” Rubio said in an interview. “I spent so many hours looking for that thing.”
With the tomato finally found, Rubio can rest easy knowing that he has been vindicated. And as for the future, perhaps the desiccated tomato will continue to tell the story of its space journey for years to come.