Long missions | Food, a worrisome issue for the Canadian Space Agency

(Longueuil) The Canadian Space Agency and NASA are already working on Artemis missions aimed at returning to the moon by 2024. It is a first step towards a deeper exploration of space thanks to a new international station. But before a dream about walking on Mars, a big problem must be solved: How do we provide enough food for the astronauts to carry out missions that last for several years?

Ugo Geiger, Local Press Initiative
The Canadian Press

Hoping to attract thousands of minds around the world to brainstorm this mystery, the Canadian space agencies (CSA) and the US (NASA) at the start of the year launched a major competition entitled “Challenge the World.” Deep Space Food Challenge.

On Tuesday noon, experts from both agencies as well as astronauts, including Canadian Jeremy Hansen, participated in a hypothetical discussion in which different aspects of food in space were discussed. In particular, the importance of providing delicious food to make the astronauts want to eat was discussed. A crucial issue is that they do not reduce their food intake and maintain good health.

In short, the main problem remains that if you go on a space exploration mission, you have to bring everything with you from Earth. Right now, the International Space Station (ISS) is easy to power up, as it orbits Earth, just a few hours into flight.

In the case of a mission to Mars, for example, adequate supplies of food would be necessary for several years. Additionally, it must be borne in mind that there is no refrigerator in the shuttles due to the energy cost required to operate these devices. Currently, dried and rehydrated foods are being used by astronauts in space. Canned or prepared foods are also used, but their shelf life is an issue, according to NASA experts.

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That’s why we’re looking for new ways to provide delicious and healthy food to astronauts. We also want to develop means of producing food in a hostile environment, such as the Moon or Mars. Technologies that can also be applied on Earth, as astronaut Jeremy Hansen noted when talking about the competition.

First, to give us the opportunity to explore space. Second, because it is essential to feed the population in isolated areas. Food security is a major issue in Canada, and transporting food remains very difficult and expensive in the Far North in particular. ”

It is therefore necessary to take into account the fact that astronauts are confined to a limited space, with limited resources and restrictions related to power or the weight of equipment.

Fresh and varied foods

The main challenge for space agencies is to find a way to provide fresh food to the astronauts. As Grace Douglas, chief scientist in NASA’s Food Technology Program, says fresh produce is the most comforting and delicious food for astronauts.

Because in addition to providing only the nutrients to the crew, we must offer them delicious and varied dishes that make them want to eat properly. Every food contains many micronutrients that are essential for the human body.

β€œTo be nutritious, you must eat!”, Summed up his colleague Scott M Smith, principal investigator in the biochemistry lab of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. He adds that the data show that a good diet reduces weight loss for astronauts and promotes recovery upon return to Earth.

Everyone agrees that the main complaint made by the astronauts is the lack of variety in the food options. As for the gastronomic experience, former US astronaut Donald Thomas, who spent more than 1,000 hours in space on four missions, said it wasn’t that bad, but he would never eat in a restaurant where these types of dishes are served!

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In addition, Jeremy Hansen, who is still awaiting his first assignment, stated that the absence of gravity has the effect of slight swelling in the head and blockage of the sinuses. So the food becomes more delicate. “You should plan for hot or well-seasoned dishes,” advised any contest participant.

The challenge is open to all residents of Canada. Business, nonprofits, or educational institutions are also eligible. The Canadian component of the competition is coordinated by the Canadian Space Agency, located in Longueuil. Scholarships are awarded as prizes at each of the three stages of the competition. Interested teams must submit their applications before July 30th.

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