Many people are familiar with the concept of freeze-dried food for astronauts, from the exciting freeze-dried ice-cream to the more common freeze-dried fruits that can be seen in cereals such as Special K. Perfect for a novelty treat, or breakfast with a splash of milk, but flawed for long expeditions into the unknown.
It is extremely difficult to provide astronauts with any food that isn't super sterile, dried, long-life food. As a result, many astronauts experience weight loss on the missions, and in terms of long-term space travel, poor food quality is a major problem in terms of mental and physical health. Any student who has eaten pot noodles 3 meals a day for a month may be familiar with the issue.
Innovations such as little hydroponic systems for growing some green food, are therefore extremely interesting developments for the industry. NASA has begun to implement research on using this method to grow crops in space; NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler, Ph.D. and colleagues have been studying ways to grow safe, fresh food crops efficiently off the Earth. Most recently, astronauts on the International Space Station harvested and ate a variety of red romaine lettuce that they activated and grew in a plant growth system called Veggie. Other vegetables Wheeler identifies as very promising for space agriculture include sweet potatoes, wheat, and soybeans.
It is not all about the veggies, though. Aleph Farms and Finless Foods recently used 3D printing technology to make cultured meat on the international space station. Whilst not quite Star Trek replicators, the innovation offers at least a little intrigue and ingenuity for astronauts, and a break from freeze dried food can make a huge nutritional difference. The mental health aspect of fresh and varied food is not to be underestimated and could be helped a long way by innovations such as these.
Read the full report: Space Technology Rocketing Upwards, Reports IDTechEx
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