In March of this year, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, then a crew member aboard the International Space Station (ISS), harvested one of the most significant tomatoes in history: the first one grown in space.
The experiment, which arrived at the ISS in October 2022 as part of SpaceX’s CRS-26 mission, was a component of a study aimed at creating “a continuous system for producing fresh food” for life beyond our world. Shortly after Rubio harvested the fruit, it mysteriously vanished.
“I placed the tomato in a bag, and one of my teammates was hosting an event with some students. I thought it would be cool to show the kids, ‘Hey, folks, this is the first tomato harvested in space’, so, I was pretty confident that I had put it where it should be, but it was gone.”
– Frank Rubio
Rubio mentioned that he spent 8 to 20 hours searching but without success. “I wanted to find it mainly to prove that I hadn’t eaten it,” he said.
And he was telling the truth. In an interview for NASA TV, astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli brought good news.
“We may have found something that someone has been looking for a long time,” she said. “Our good friend Frank Rubio, who went home, has been accused for quite some time of eating the tomato – but we can exonerate him: we found the tomato.”
However, neither she nor the other crew members of Expedition 70, who were in the same interview, revealed where the tomato was hidden.
Not the first time
This isn’t the first time something got lost in space.
- 2023: During a spacewalk (extravehicular activity – EVA) with two NASA astronauts in November, a tool bag was lost in orbit, preventing the continuation of tasks. According to NASA estimates, the dropped tool bag is about 400 kilometers above earth and expected to burn up in the atmosphere in mid-April 2024.
- 2017: Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough misplaced an essential item required for their tasks aboard the ISS—a bag containing a fabric debris shield intended to conceal an access point. Thankfully they were able to quickly scrape together a substitute using other materials.
- 2008: A tool bag belonging to NASA astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper unintentionally slipped away, with its value estimated at $100,000. Stefanyshyn-Piper said in an interview after the incident that she considered jumping and grabbing the bag
- 1965: Approximately six decades ago, American astronaut Ed White experienced a mishap during his initial spacewalk when he lost a glove. Exiting the Gemini 4 spacecraft, he floated in space for about 20 minutes. Unfortunately, as the capsule door remained open, one of his spare gloves drifted away into space, as reported by Space Center Houston.