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As salads go, it wasn’t a very exciting one – a few leaves of red romaine lettuce drizzled with a simple balsamic dressing.

The key difference with this plate of greens was that it was the first ever food to be grown and eaten in space.

Astronauts on the International Space Station cultivated the plants in around 33 days earlier this year in specially designed pillows of aerated clay.  It was an important test of technology that could be essential as humans begin to move beyond our planet to colonise other worlds.

Modern spacecraft are sterile and industrial spaces  

Rachel Armstrong, professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University, believes we need to start thinking about how we will live when this starts to happen.

Modern spacecraft are sterile and industrial spaces, she told BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit in Sydney in November. Most space exploration has focused on breaking down frontiers and assessing the resources out in space.

In the video above, recorded at the summit, she argues for a change in the way we design spacecraft to turn them into living ecosystems instead. They will become spaces where vegetation grows, that contain soil, water and air.

Learning how to take life into space in this way may lead us to new insights into the way ecosystems function, Armstrong believes.  It could eventually also us to become a true space faring species.

A batch of zinnia flowers grown on the ISS this year (Credit: Nasa)

Read more: The myths and reality about interstellar travel

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