Space exploration carries with it many challengs and one of them is eating, or more accurately the provision of food. During short duration missions then its reasonable to take pre-packaged meals that have been provided from Earth. For long germ missions its a different story, not only will the fearless space explorers crave fresh food its also more of a logistical challenge to take enough food for a trip spanning many years. Researchers have now developed a healthy ‘space salad’ from ingredeints that could be grown in space.
Travelling in space is a demanding activity and astronauts burn many more calories than those of us safely down here on the surface. Not only is it more demanding but the long term exposure to microgravity means that extra nutrients are required such as calcium to help keep bones strong (astronauts have a rigorous daily exercise regime to help keep their bones and muscles strong) To sustain this, a way must be found to grow food during the mission.
A team, led by Volker Hessel has now developed a space meal that takes all of those requirments but also looks and tastes great. This wasn’t as easy as nipping to the supermarket and reading the labels of multiple foods, instead the team used a method called linear programming to construct the perfect meal with the right combination of fresh ingredients.
The use of fresh ingredients is important so that future crews can grow their own food using minimum amounts of water too. They also had to ensure the food identified was sustainable, meaning it used as little fertiliser as possible to maximise yield using as little space as possible and even be recyclable if not used.
Of all the combinations they found that a vegetarian meal made from soya beans, poppy seads, barley, kale, peanuts, sweet potato and sunflower seeds was the best at providing maximum nutrients with minimal effort and overhead from the astronauts. This combination didn’t provide absolutely everything an astronaut needed but any shortfall in nutrients could be topped up with suplements.
The team didn’t stop there though and just identify the right ingredients, they even knocked up a recipe for the perfect space sald for four people. Even going for taste tests here on Earth although mixed reviews were received. One tester said they would be happy to eat it all week as an astronaut while others seemed less enthralled but still went for more.
There is one problem in particular that the team had to overcome, strong flavours. In space, more especially in microgravity liquids tend to equalise around the body so that sinuses can become blocked. If you have ever had a cold and a blocked nose you will know how your experience of taste can be diminished – it’s thought as much as 80% of the sense of taste comes from smell. So it is with astronauts, they like strong, flavoursome food. Some of the ingredients in the all new space salad carry strong tastes to satisfy the appetite. The team are now looking to shape up more meal options so that future space travellers can enjoy cullinary delights across space.