Australian scientists are cooking up astronaut food to send to space for a year before testing how tasty it is using an electronic nose and tongue.
The goal is to find a better way to prepare, store and serve meals for long space missions to the Moon and Mars.
Adelaide University chemical engineer Professor Volker Hessel plans to send samples to the International Space Station in September.
The food will stay a year on board before returning to Earth, where scientists will assess its long-term stability* and whether it’s still satisfying to eat using a hi-tech version of human taste and smell sensors.
“Food is crucial* for space exploration and human colonisation* of space,” Prof Hessel said. “It has to do with nutrition content, so you get what you need, but also has to do with the flavour, which has a big impact on morale* and behaviour. Finding out whether food remains stable on long missions and how exposure to the environment on board spacecraft might affect food flavours is vitally* important.”
His team is experimenting with a new method for disinfecting* food, which can also be used to change food flavour, feel and smell.
They’re also exploring ways of protecting against flavour losses caused by cosmic rays* in space.
The research is being conducted with the universities of Warwick and Nottingham in the UK, where flavour chemist Professor Ian Fisk is exploring food preferences and processing.
“Astronauts on missions in Earth’s orbit mainly live off thermo-stabilised* or dried meals that they can then rehydrate* with water before eating, so naturally they look forward to fresh food that is delivered when they are resupplied from home,” Prof Fisk said.
“The challenge is to improve the variety and quality of food so that astronauts have greater choice during long voyages, rather than being faced with monotonous* rotations of similar meals.”
The research team receives support from the food industry and hope to one day commercialise* their work.
The current record for the single longest space mission of 438 consecutive days is likely to be broken with NASA’s 2024 mission to the Moon.
A Moon base would then be used as a launch point for the three-year journey to Mars.
Astronauts in space usually lose bone mineral density, which may be avoided by eating more nutritious food.
LETTUCE IN SPACE
Astronauts on the International Space Station have grown and eaten a salad.
They ate the salad of red romaine leaves with an oil and vinegar dressing, describing them as “awesome”.
They also tested the nutritional value of the leaves and found them to be richer in minerals potassium, sodium, phosphorus, sulphur and zinc than lettuce grown on Earth.
The experiments were carried out on the ISS between 2014-16 and the results were published this month in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.
The lettuce also had more antiviral and anti-cancer properties.
NASA will now try and grow peppers and tomatoes in the same conditions.
Dr Christina Khodadad, a microbiologist at Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre, said: “The ability to grow food in a sustainable system that is safe for consumption will become critical for longer missions.”
“Salad can be grown and consumed fresh with few resources.”
- stability: whether something stays the same or changes over time or under certain conditions
- crucial: vital, super important
- colonisation: going somewhere to start a settlement or colony
- morale: how positive everyone is feeling
- vitally: very importantly
- disinfecting: killing bacteria and other germs to stop food spoiling
- cosmic rays: high-energy rays from the Sun
- rehydrate: put water back in after being dried out
- thermo-stabilised: treated with heat to preserve it
- monotonous: without variety
- commercially: to make money
- What is the goal of this research?
- Where does Professor Volker Hessel work?
- What sort of food do the astronauts mostly eat now?
- How long could the journey to Mars take?
- What sort of lettuce did the astronauts grow?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Write a submission
Deciding which meals to cook and test for the astronauts would be a tricky task. There are so many options, with many people having different likes and dislikes. If you had a choice, what meals would you include in this project? Write a submission for your choice of three meals to be included in the testing. You need to convince the researchers that your suggestions meet the criteria of nutrition and flavour, and also would be appealing to the greatest number of astronauts.
Write your submission in the form of a letter, addressed to the relevant people involved in this research. Include reasons why you suggest these meals. Ensure you set out your letter in the correct format and use correct paragraphing and punctuation.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Health and Physical Education, Critical and Creative thinking
While maintaining a healthy diet is important for everyone it is possibly more important for astronauts on a space mission. Write a list of reasons why maintaining a healthy diet is so important for astronauts. Think about the type of living conditions and resources they might have available in space. You might be able to think of some funny reasons as well as the more serious reasons.
An example is: They do not have easy access to medical facilities.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Health and Physical Education
Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.
How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).
Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing?
What are they?
Can you sort them into their categories?
HAVE YOUR SAY: What would you grow in space?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.