What do you consider space food? In the Apollo era, astronauts ate freeze-dried, cube-shaped delicacies such as shrimp cocktail and date fruitcake, which proved entirely adequate. Apollo 8 crew member Jim Lovell was quoted as saying “Happiness is bacon squares for breakfast” while midway to the moon in 1968. Visitors to the International Space Station typically eat sturdier, nonperishable stuff from vacuum-sealed packages.
So far, so good. But a long voyage to Mars or beyond will require a different approach. Without a steady means of supply, future space voyages and otherworldly outposts will need highly engineered, self-contained ecosystems to provide a complete diet. As Karuna Rawal, chief marketing officer at Nature’s Fynd—a Chicago-based company that develops microbe-based proteins, put it, “The challenge in space is: you can’t take a cow or a chicken with you,”
Enter the NASA and the Canadian Space Agency’s Deep Space Food Challenge — an international competition where NASA offers awards to U.S. teams and recognition to international teams to create novel and innovative food technologies, or systems that require minimal resources and yet maximize nutritious food production for long-duration space missions. Hopefully, we on Earth will also benefit from these new ideas.
So what are the possibilities? Think much smaller than a chicken. A recent event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City featured some examples, beginning with a surprisingly rich chocolate mousse topped with a raspberry made from microscopic fungi, and fungi-based “meatballs” in tomato sauce. An international team from Lappeenranta, Finland, made a protein-heavy powder from bacteria, from which they produced a bright yellow fortune cookie. Nolux, a team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside, and the University of Delaware, demonstrated a method of artificial photosynthesis that can grow oyster mushrooms without sunlight.
Thinking bigger, Florida’s Interstellar Lab has developed a system to grow plants, mushrooms and insects in their own compartmentalized growing cubes, which allow space farmers to control each cube’s ambient conditions individually.
So if you’re a young person with interplanetary ambitions, rest assured you’ll have something good to eat. It might come from a bacterium or a fungus, but still…
For more detail, see “Space Farmers of the Future May Grow Fungi, Flies and Microgreens” by Allison Parshall (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/space-farmers-of-the-future-may-grow-fungi-flies-and-microgreens1/?)