Astronaut Ice Cream Fit for Mars
While food fit for human consumption in outer space has come a long way from the days of vegetable puree in a squeeze tube and freeze-dried Neopolitan ice cream in a foil pack, it has a long way to travel still if we’re ever going to send a mission to Mars. As NASA looks to the future of the program, creating meals that will survive the years long journey while still preserving some semblance of enjoyment at the prospect of cracking into the next pack presents a real difficulty.
The LA Times explains some of the challenges faced by the team of scientist chefs:
Imagine having to pack more than 6,570 breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners all at once — enough meals to feed six people every day for more than three years. Imagine preparing all these meals with an allotment of 3.2 pounds of food per person per day, about one-third less than the average American eats each day on Earth. Imagine that each dish needs to have a five-year shelf life. And imagine having to transport all the meals to a dining table 55 million miles away, where cooking equipment will be rudimentary at best.
While taste and appearance are essential for maintaining morale over such a sustained journey, safety remains the primary concern. In an effort to slow down the inevitable chemical reactions in food that cause it to become less appetizing (and eventually spoil) while still killing any pathogens that it might contain, researchers are looking into lower-heat alternatives both in its packaging and preparation. Two emerging sterilization technologies are a highly pressurized water system and one that combines microwave radiation with the latent heat from water, both of which will require better packaging materials that can withstand these additional rigors.
Once these improved techniques are in place, then the researchers can get to work on reinventing home cooked standards like chicken and dumplings and mac and cheese with a goal of tackling this phase in 2013. In the meantime, scientists are weighing the possibility of supplementing these meals with fresh fruits and vegetables that can be raised hydroponically while in space.
This last consideration is particularly interesting given its implications for the future of the way food is grown here on Earth. Which is especially important as we attempt to deal with the pressures of a growing population that is increasingly becoming urban-based and the intelligent use of small spaces.
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[image via Canadacow on Flickr]