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.
Read more from our "Ultimate Guide to New Mexico Chile"
The Mystery of Big Jim
A 10-year effort to restore one of New Mexico’s most distinctive chiles underscores how memory thrives in our taste buds.
José Gonzalez: The Allure of Chile Farming
Although he's tried other jobs, José Gonzalez keeps coming back to the farm where his family grows chiles, corn, beans and more.
The Ultimate New Mexico Chile Tasting Guide
We asked two experts to describe the flavors of New Mexico’s best chile varieties.
More Than Just Salsa
Capsaicin does more than make chile hot, it is used in medicinal creams, bear repellent and in foods to give captive birds and fish a reddish hue.
The Making of Chile U
One of the only scientific institutions devoted to a so-called condiment flourishes in Las Cruces.
Matt Romero: The Chile Roaster
Rooted in family history, Matt Romero brings that heavenly scent and his special flair to the Santa Fe Farmers' Market.
Rooted in Native Soil
Chile holds a very special place in the traditional foods of Southwest tribes.
Nick Maryol: Feeding the Soul
The owner of Santa Fe's Tia Sophia's, Nick Maryol understands how food creates ties to our families, our history and our culture.
Mix and Hatch
Does chile go with everything? Mmmmmmaybe.
Take Your Pick
At Big Jim Farms, in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, you can hand pick your chiles right from the field.
Danise Coon: Researching New Varieties
With roots on the farm, Danise Coon helps develop new varieties at the Chile Pepper Institute.
Make Your Own Ristra
The ristra is iconic decor, but it's also a pantry on a string.