By 2025, NASA is planning to send humans on a historic trip to Mars. Yes, they will boldly go where no man has gone before—but what will they eat? Popular Science recently interviewed NASA food scientist Vickie Kloeris about her quest to create space meals that are healthy, long-lasting, and—dare we say it—tasty?
Kloeris’s biggest challenge is creating food that is appetizing and can last for months outside a refrigerator. While some people picture Mars's first settlers eating fresh vegetables harvested from hydroponic greenhouses, the residents will likely be snacking on food that will have been delivered to Mars five to seven years before their arrival. And they may have plenty of options. Kloeris and her contemporaries currently provide 200 different food and beverage choices for astronauts at the International Space Station.
There are also concerns over how the meals’ nutritional content will decay over time. Scientists are tackling this challenge by studying the foods' shelf life to see how many nutrients survive. They’re also experimenting with fortifying the foods and looking into new ways to process and sterilize them so they’ll preserve more nutrients from the start.
Of course, there are still other issues at play. Researchers don’t know how deep space radiation affects food, and there’s no way to test this without leaving Earth’s atmosphere. And even though space dwellers might be able to grow some produce in an LED light-outfitted box, that is not going to yield them enough nutritionally-dense veggies to impact their diets. Meanwhile, it's unlikely that innovations like 3D-printing or insect food products will impact the way astronauts dine.
However much work it takes, Kloeris says she hopes to make sure that space voyagers like what they’re eating. “Food is one of the few creature comforts that the astronauts have, so the food has become really important from a psychological perspective,” she says.
[h/t Popular Science]