Taste the space food of the future

(CNN) — When the first astronauts venture to Mars in the future, the crew will need access to fresh, healthy food, but there won’t be any cosmic supermarkets in the way. And the round trip to the red planet should take about three years.

Food is one of the many challenges NASA faces before sending humans into deep space, but it’s a tall order. Nutritious foods that also stimulate the appetite are necessary to keep astronauts healthy, and freeze-dried options will not suffice.

This nutrition request is part of the reason for the fact that NASA and the Canadian Space Agency initiated the Deep Space Food Challenge, a llamado abierto a experts de todo el mundo para desarrollar tecnologías para maintener a los astronautas alimentados y saludables en espaciales missions a Long term.

The competition led the Astra Gastronomy team at Nonfiction, a San Francisco-based design and innovation firm, to develop the Space Culinary Lab. The compact kitchen-style system includes stations for growing seaweed and leafy greens, blending creamy coffee, and even grilling meat.

“The idea here is to create a kitchen space,” said Nonfiction co-founder Phnam Bagley. “You can cook whatever food you want however you want. Bringing that level of agency to astronauts is where designers like us start.”

The Space Culinary Lab passed the first phase of the Deep Space Food Challenge in October 2021. Although it was not selected in phase two, the design shows some of the technology that could be used not only in the space but also in environments with limited resources, such as refugee camps and food deserts on Earth.

The heart of the design brings “a bit of humanity to space”, with mix-and-match options so astronauts won’t miss the same flavors and textures when their taste buds get bored in space, Bagley said.

The lab provides ways for astronauts to maintain a strong appetite to prevent weight loss and access new options for maintaining optimal nutrition, which is crucial for their health as the crew ventures farther afield. Earth.

Cooking in a kitchen area

The food lab is configured in such a way that the rounded design can fit into an existing spacecraft and requires few resources and little effort from the astronauts. The different modules included in the layout are called munch, sizzle, yum and snap.

Snap provides a refreshing wall of greenery in the sterile environment of a spacecraft, where astronauts can tend to soil-grown microgreens like baby bok choy and butter wraps. Pink lights provide the right wavelength that accelerates green growth, and timed mists deliver water and nutrients to exposed roots.

While vegetables add extra flavor and healthy nutrients to a meal, there’s also a psychological side to caring for plants.

Astronauts living for six months or more aboard the International Space Station have shared how growing, harvesting and eating fresh produce has uplifted their mood and brought out their nutritious side by incorporating plant care into their routines. .

The Culinary Lab’s munch module provides another nutritional boost by growing microalgae in a bioreactor. Seaweed can be collected, dehydrated and mixed with powdered fruit, spices, vinegar, oats and peanut butter for a tasty and nutritious snack.

Microalgae could help shield astronauts as they leave the shielding effects of low Earth orbit and venture into the harsh radiation environment of deep space, Bagley said.

Rehydrated meats are a source of protein that astronauts rely on. To make them more palatable, Nonfiction included nuggets as part of the food lab. The tiny microwave drawer, which looks like a convection oven, has glass plates and laser technology. Bagley demonstrated this by brushing a piece of rehydrated chicken with a mixture of maple syrup and soy sauce, a “stable and delicious” combination, he said.

Does it look appetizing? If you go to Mars, this can be your food

As the meat heats up, the “marinade” helps it caramelize and a laser draws grill marks into the meat. (You can also draw your name or even a representation of “Mona Lisa” if that’s fun, Bagley said.) The sizzle can also be used to heat and “roast” vegetables, tofu and omelettes.

Since astronauts struggle to sleep well in space, they can also rely on a caffeine supplement on the long journey to Mars. This is where the yum module comes in handy. The creamer uses a steel probe to emulsify water and oil-based ingredients to create self-contained lattes, chocolate ganache and mayonnaise.

It’s time for a space food taste test

Futuristic space dishes prepared in the Culinary Lab were made available for a taste test on Nonfiction when CNN visited in March, including space coffee and seaweed mixed in different flavors.

Rolled into balls or cubes after mixing with the ingredients in a silicone bag, the seaweed can stay fresh for two to three days.

Two types of nutritional seaweed balls were available: a savory and a fruity one. The end result looked like a snack for a long hike, but it was surprisingly delicious and had no seaweed aftertaste.

Bagley and others at Nonfiction, including Mark Alexander, Mardis Bagley, Nadia Kutyreva and Fifile Nguyen, tried several flavor combinations to find the right balance.

“I think we’ve found that if we put too many ingredients together, the flavor profile gets muddled and then the seaweed flavor comes back,” Bagley said. “We use two or three ingredients at a time.”

A blend of peanut butter, oats, onion powder and vinegar with the seaweed for a strong, savory flavor with a nice tangy finish. But the favorite was the fruity seaweed, which was mixed with powders of freeze-dried strawberries, cherries and other fruits. The fruit powders masked the seaweed taste and made it taste like a slightly sweet treat with no added sugars.

Next, coffee powder, hot water, ghee, coconut oil, and lecithin were mixed with the emulsifier probe to create a frothy brew.

“The mechanism mixes the liquids together,” Bagley said, “and creates this super creamy hot drink, which is very satisfying in the morning.”

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