New Study Cites Food Science Challenges for NASA Missions to Mars

Space food for astronauts tastes better and is now healthier than ever before due to significant food science developments. However, a new study in the Journal of Food Science (JFS) published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) highlights the challenges that need to be addressed so that astronauts can travel to Mars and beyond.

March 1, 2011

CHICAGO—Space food for astronauts tastes better and is now healthier than ever before due to significant food science developments. However, a new study in the Journal of Food Science (JFS) published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) highlights the challenges that need to be addressed so that astronauts can travel to Mars and beyond.

Without an adequate food system, it is certain that space crew members’ health and performance would be compromised.  The study authors, who are from NASA, Lockheed Martin and North Carolina State University, explain that the food developed for long-duration missions must:

    • provide the nutrients and taste acceptability to sustain crew health and performance
    • have a shelf life requirement of 3-to-5 years with sustained vitamin delivery
    • be safe after cooking and processing in partial gravity
    • be formulated and packaged in such a way that the mass and subsequent waste is within the allowable limits of proposed future space vehicles.

This article provides a brief review of research in each area, details the past Advanced Food Technology Project (AFT) research efforts, and describes the remaining gaps that present barriers to achieving a food system for long exploration missions.  According to the study authors, it is clear that a balance must be maintained between use of resources (such as power, mass, and crew time), and the safety, nutrition, and acceptability of the food system in order to develop adequate NASA food systems for future missions.

"If we go to Mars, we need a five year shelf life of food and that means we need to start looking at new technologies to start preserving the food," said Michele Perchonok, Advanced Food Technology Manager at NASA and one of the study authors (See Day in the Life of a NASA Food Scientist video clip below).

Access the Journal of Food Science abstract: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01982.x/abstract

Video Profiles a Team of NASA Food Scientists
IFT produced a video titled “A Day in the Life of a NASA Food Scientist.” The award-winning video follows IFT member and author of the Journal of Food Science study, Michele Perchonok, Advanced Food Technology Manager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and members of the food science team in Houston, Texas, as they conduct their work in the Space Food Systems Laboratory. Through interviews with scientists, they convey how food science plays a critical role in ensuring that astronauts have safe, healthy and nutritious foods during current missions to space and how their work will contribute to future efforts to reach Mars. View the video at http://bit.ly/aT3AiD

To receive a copy of the study or schedule an interview with the authors, please contact Mindy Weinstein at mweinstein@ift.org, 312-399-9779.

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Mindy Weinstein

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Phone 312.604.0231
Fax 312.596.5631
Email: mweinstein@ift.org