It turns out that NASA astronaut Frank Rubio really didn’t have a hankering for tomatoes after all.
Rubio, who had been on the International Space Station for a record-setting 371 days, came back to earth in September.
However, as The New York Times noted in a Dec. 11 article, he “had to confront one small, red mark on his legacy: He had lost a tomato somewhere in the International Space Station.
“The tomato’s disappearance, he explained, had led to speculation that he had eaten it in secret, thus consuming important scientific research in a fit of desire for fresh produce while he was orbiting Earth.”
Yes, this wasn’t just any tomato. As United Press International reported, this was one of the first fruits ever grown and harvested in space — an important scientific landmark.
While it sounds like a plot point out of a Pauly Shore film from 30 years ago, the “red mark” represented a pretty serious accusation, as NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli said during a live stream to commemorate the ISS’ 25 anniversary.
She also had some important news: Eight months after it had been lost, the tomato was found again.
“Our good friend Frank Rubio, who headed home [already], has been blamed for quite a while for eating the tomato,” she said.
“But we can exonerate him. We found the tomato.”
Great news for Rubio, indeed.
As it turns out, the small tomato had just been misplaced by the astronaut — something he had claimed while still aboard the ISS.
“I spent so many hours looking for that thing,” Rubio said during a live stream in September.
The search, he estimated, lasted between eight and 20 hours.
“I’m sure the desiccated tomato will show up at some point and vindicate me, years in the future,” he said.
🍅 The great tomato mystery of @Space_Station 🚀
“Our good friend Frank Rubio, who headed home, has been blamed for quite a while for eating the tomato. But we can exonerate him. We found the tomato,” NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli @AstroJaws 🕵️♀️😂 pic.twitter.com/vfoNGl3Ls0
— OrbitalToday.com (@SpaceBiz1) December 9, 2023
Well, he didn’t need years. While Moghbeli didn’t say where it had been found or what the condition of the fruit was, it had finally been located.
And it’s not just a matter of vindication for Rubio, either. The astronaut talked about how he “love[d] working with that little plant and seeing it grow and develop,” the Times reported.
Not only that, but it was an important part of a study in “how air- and water-based growing techniques affected plants.”
It was lost, Rubio said, when he had put it in a bag to show off to students about to video-conference with one of his ISS crew-members.
“I was pretty confident that I Velcroed it where I was supposed to Velcro it, and then I came back and it was gone,” he said.
“I wanted to find it mostly so I could prove, like, ‘I did not eat the tomato,’” he said.
Well, congratulations, Mr. Rubio. We now know you didn’t just get a case of space munchies and gulp it down. A shriveled tomato is an unusual Christmas present, but we doubt the NASA astronaut could have gotten anything better this holiday season.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.