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NASA Is Making ‘Sustainable’ Space Food for Deep Space Travel

How do you feed astronauts who are going to be propelled 40,000 miles beyond the moon?

by Nick Rose
Nov 29 2016, 10:00pm

Space food gets a bad rap for not being very appetizing.

But the reality is that the astronauts aboard the International Space Station have some 200 (mainly rehydrated) meals to choose from as they float around 220 miles from Earth. And even by the 1970s, space food bars were tasty enough to market to the general public.

Now, as NASA reaches further and further away from our planet's orbit, it's being faced with new challenges for feeding astronauts. NASA's Orion spacecraft is slated to be propelled 40,000 miles past the moon and into deep space, meaning that it will be too far away to be refuelled or resupplied on a regular basis. So how do you fuel a ship and its crew that is going so far for so long? That's what NASA is currently working on.

"There's no commercially-available bar right now that meets our needs, so we've had to go design something that will work for the crew, while trying to achieve a multi-year shelf-life," Takiyah Sirmons, a food scientist with NASA's Advanced Food Technology team, said in a press release.

READ MORE: Inside the Rise, Fall, and Stoner Rebirth of Pillsbury's 70s Space Food

The length of this expedition also means that weight reduction is key, as fuel efficiency will be crucial. The challenge for NASA's food scientists, then, is to pack as many calories, nutrients, and flavors (including orange cranberry and barbeque nut) into as dense of a bar as possible.

"When you have 700 to 900 calories of something, it's going to have some mass regardless of what shape it's in, so we've taken a look at how to get some mass savings by reducing how we're packaging and stowing what the crew would eat for breakfast for early Orion flights," deputy health and medical technical authority for Orion, Jessica Vos. "When you think about multi-week missions in Orion, having just one package for breakfast items for crew will help us limit the space we need to store them."

The new space bars still look very much like space food or prison food, but the crew of Orion might also be eating space salads by the time the vessel leaves Earth in 2021. NASA is currently experimenting with a system they call "The Veggie," which is described as a "deployable plant growth unit capable of producing salad-type crops to provide the crew with a palatable, nutritious, and safe source of fresh food and a tool to support relaxation and recreation."

But, for now, it looks like it's going to be 900-calorie barbecue nut bars.