"How do you feed a crew of six astronauts on an 80-million-mile, three-year mission to Mars, where there are no grocery stores, gardens, farms, fertile soil or resupply vehicle?" that's the question NASA space food scientists asked themselves. In one of the features published on NASA's website, Vickie Kloeris, sub-system manager for the International Space Station food notes that astronauts are now staying in space for longer and need tasty nutritious meals.
Gone are the days when food for astronauts, popularly known as space food, was not delectable and required squeezing out of metal tubes like toothpaste.
NASA scientists are always looking out for ways to make space food manufacturing fuss-free and the output as close to the finest of food items found back on Earth.
While the last piece on space food talked about how 'eating in space' or preparing food in space is not similar to the Earth, this will briefly touch upon how NASA experts plan to overhaul the space food manufacturing to make food consumption as familiar and seamless an experience for astronauts as it is back on Earth.
NASA'S Advanced Food System (AFS) aims at providing "safe, nutritious and appetizing food while minimizing volume, mass and waste" to astronauts travelling to Moon and Mars in the future. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Shelf life up to five years
"The AFS approach includes extending the shelf life of a stored food system from 18 months (currently the typical shelf life of space station-stored foods) to up to five years," NASA mentions on its website.
This can aptly be described as one of the most significant requirements for food produced for astronauts on long missions. Thermostabilizing food items will ensure maintaining food quality longer than frozen foods. (Image source: @daynasteele)
Grow your own
"Astronauts will build hydroponic growth labs, where pick-and-eat vegetables, as well as white and sweet potatoes, soybeans, wheat, rice, peanuts and dried beans, can be grown," NASA notes.
The Martian Food Processing equipment will use minimum water and resources. And just in case producing food up above is not possible, stacks of packaged crops can be taken in bulk to be used later on.(Image source: Pixabay)
To be grown 'in-transit' on long space missions
Under NASA'S Advanced Food System (AFS), as many as twelve crops have been identified that can be grown "in-transit" on long space missions; some of them include lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, green onions, radishes, bell peppers, strawberries, fresh herbs and cabbages.(Image source: Pixabay)
The habitat kitchen
The 'habitat galley kitchen' is where each of the crew’s meals will be prepared. "The galley equipment will be similar to commercially available gourmet kitchen appliances, but modified for use in partial gravity," NASA.
Astronauts meals will be nothing short of a gourmet affair studded with lip-smacking delicacies.
Despite all the technological innovations and groundbreaking developments in the realm of space food, experts and food scientists are still meted out with challenges.
Experts suggest that achieving "enhance packaging" and longer shelf life for stored food are some of the top challenges. Scientists are also working towards advances in the "design, fabrication and testing of miniaturized processing equipment".
Finally, there is the task to measure and mitigate the effects of radiation on the quality of space food items and stored crops among other hurdles. However, NASA is armed and equipped to overcome all challenges in its commitment to serving delicious meals to its astronauts. (Image source: NASA, Representative image)