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When the first astronauts venture to Mars in the future, the crew will need access to healthy, fresh food, but there’s no cosmic grocery store along the way. And the round trip to the red planet should take about three years.
Food is one of the many challenges NASA faces before sending humans into deep space, but it’s a big one. Nutritious foods that also stimulate the appetite are necessary to keep astronauts healthy, and freeze-dried options will not suffice.
This demand for nutrition is part of why NASA and the Canadian Space Agency launched the Deep space food challengean open call for experts around the world to develop technologies to feed and maintain astronauts in good health during long-term space missions.
The competition led the Astra Gastronomie team to nonfiction, a San Francisco-based design and innovation firm, to develop the Space Culinary Lab. The compact kitchen-style system includes stations for growing seaweed and leafy greens, blending creamy coffee, and even grilling meat.
The idea here is to create a kitchen space, said Nonfiction co-founder Phnam Bagley. You can prepare the food you want the way you want. Bringing that level of agency to astronauts is where designers like us start.
The Space Culinary Lab successfully completed the first phase of the Deep Space Food Challenge in October 2021. Although he was not selected in phase twothe design showcases some of the technologies that could be used not only in space, but also in resource-limited environments such as refugee camps and food deserts on Earth.
The heart of the design is to bring a little humanity into space, with mix and match options so astronauts don’t get exhausted by the same flavors and textures that their taste buds get dull in space. space, Bagley said.
The lab provides ways for astronauts to maintain a strong appetite to prevent weight loss and access new options for maintaining optimal nutrition, which is crucial for their health as the crew ventures farther afield. Earth.
The food lab is configured in such a way that the rounded design could fit into an existing spacecraft and would require few resources and little effort from the astronauts. The different modules included in the design are called munch, sizzle, yum and snap.
Snap provides a refreshing wall of greenery in the otherwise sterile environment of a spacecraft, where astronauts can tend to soil-free microgreens, such as baby bok choy and buttery greens. Pink lights provide the right wavelength that speeds green growth, and timed spritzes deliver water and nutrients to exposed roots.
While the greens deliver more flavor and healthy nutrients to a meal, there is also a psychological side to caring for plants.
Astronauts living for six months or more aboard the International Space Station have shared how growing, harvesting and eating fresh produce has uplifted their mood and brought out their nurturing side by incorporating plant care into their routines.
The Culinary Labs munch module provides another nutritional boost by growing microalgae in a bioreactor. Seaweed can be collected, dehydrated and mixed with fruit powders, spices, vinegar, oats and peanut butter for a tasty and nutritious snack.
Microalgae could help protect astronauts as they leave the shielding effects of low Earth orbit and venture into the harsh radiation environment of deep space, Bagley said.
Rehydrated meats are a source of protein that astronauts rely on. To make them more palatable, Nonfiction included the sizzle as part of the food lab. The tiny microwave drawer, which looks like a convection oven, has glass plates and laser technology. Bagley demonstrated that he brushed a piece of rehydrated chicken with a mixture of maple syrup and soy sauce, a combination that is stable and delicious, she says.
As the meat heats up, the marinade helps it caramelize and a laser draws grill marks on the meat. (You can also draw your name or even a rendering of the Mona Lisa if that’s fun, Bagley said.) The sizzle can also be used to warm up and grill vegetables, tofu and tortillas.
Since astronauts struggle to sleep properly in space, they might also rely on a caffeine supplement on the long journey to Mars. This is where the yum module comes in handy. The creamer uses a steel probe to emulsify water and oil-based ingredients to create self-contained lattes, chocolate ganache and mayonnaise.
Futuristic space food made using the culinary lab was available for a taste test at Nonfiction when CNN visited in March, including space coffee and seaweed mixed in different flavors.
Seaweed, rolled into balls or cubes after being mixed with ingredients in a silicone bag, can stay fresh for two to three days.
Two types of nutritional seaweed balls were on hand, one savory and one fruity. The end result looked like a snack for a long hike, but it was surprisingly delicious and had no seaweed aftertaste.
Bagley and others at Nonfiction, including Mark Alexander, Mardis Bagley, Nadia Kutyreva and Fifile Nguyen, tasted several flavor combinations to find the right balance.
I think we realized that if we put too many ingredients together it confuses the flavor profile and then the seaweed flavor comes back, Bagley said. We use two or three ingredients at a time.
A blend of peanut butter, oats, onion powder and vinegar with the seaweed for a strong, savory flavor with a nice, sour finish. But the favorite was the fruity seaweed, which mixed with powdered strawberries, cherries and other freeze-dried fruits. The fruit powders masked the seaweed flavor and made it taste like a slightly sweet treat with no added sugars.
Next, coffee powder, hot water, ghee, coconut oil, and lecithin were mixed with the emulsifier probe to create a frothy brew.
The mechanism agitates the liquids together, Bagley said, and creates this super creamy hot drink that’s very satisfying in the morning.
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