Microgravity poses a lot of challenges, among which the development of food that is nutritious, doesn’t look too disgusting and can last for long periods of time is one of NASA’s many priorities if it ever wants for their deep space missions including the one to Mars to become a reality.
Although calibrating the nutritional value of food isn’t a difficult task besides other aspects like variety, taste, and shelf-life, researchers also have to keep in mind that the food must take as little space as possible due to the limited room in the spacecraft. Weight is another major concern as the ship must also be as light as possible
The weight of a spacecraft directly impacts the amount of fuel they need to carry for the eventual deep space missions. For example, astronauts on the International Space Station, which receives regular resupply cargos, can choose from more than 200 meal items. However, this is not the case with the Orion mission as it will be too far away to be resupplied.
As such, the main challenge for food scientists is to develop highly nutritious and diverse food which doesn’t take too much space. The variety of foods is important because it plays a major role in the overall mood of the crew. Eating the same thing every day, not matter how good it is, is bound to lower the morale of anyone.
As such, NASA scientists decided that the best way to assure the food preferences and needs of the Orion crew is to develop food bars. Similar products already exist commercially like the ones produced by Soylent and which act as meal replacements. However, NASA’s food bars pack more nutritional value and also can last longer.
Scientists developed a variety of flavors such as cranberry, orange, or even barbecue nut which replaces the breakfast meal, thus saving more space on the already crammed spacecraft. Currently, each bar has around 700 to 900 calories each, and scientists are already hard at work to provide the same calories but with food that takes less space without compromising quality.
NASA is also working to facilitate the growth of various food plants in space. Last year, the ISS crew managed to grow and eat a romaine lettuce.
Image credit: NASA