In late March, astronauts aboard the International Space Station successfully harvested a batch of space-grown tomatoes, and each astronaut was given a plastic baggie with a sample. One of those tomato bags ended up floating away, with the tiny tomato still inside, and now, nearly nine months later, the missing tomato has reemerged, vindicating an astronaut who was accused of eating it. "We might have found something that someone had been looking for for quite a while," NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli said with a grin during a Wednesday livestream, per Business Insider.
The 1-inch-wide Red Robin dwarf tomato had been cultivated en masse as part of the space agency's VEG-05 project, which was designed "to study crop growth, nutrient composition, microbial food safety, flavor, and psychological benefits for the crew," per an April release. Rubio says his bag accidentally floated away, which is when some of his colleagues started wondering if he'd secretly devoured the tomato.
Rubio, who has since returned to Earth, has long professed his innocence, including in September, when he insisted, per Business Insider: "I did not eat the tomato, and I wish I had at this point because I think everybody thinks I did." He added ruefully: "I spent so many hours looking for that thing," though he then noted with a laugh, "I'm sure the desiccated tomato will show up at some point and vindicate me, years in the future."
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Now, per Moghbeli, "we can exonerate him. We found the [tomato]." Space.com offers its own defense for the debacle, noting, "To be fair to Rubio, the ISS is larger than a six-bedroom house, and, in microgravity, things can easily float away to unexpected corners. NASA's procedure is usually to check vent intakes, but in a station crowded with 25 years of stuff, it's easy to lose track of individual items." (More strange stuff stories.)