What Will We Eat on the Moon? The Future of Space Food

by Ella

As humanity gears up for another giant leap, the question arises: what will astronauts eat on the Moon? NASA’s upcoming Artemis program, the aging International Space Station (ISS), and potential manned deep space missions have put space food in the spotlight. The challenge is clear: how do we nourish astronauts far from Earth?

The Importance of Food in Space

“Food is essential for astronauts’ sanity,” says Dr. Sonja Brungs, astronaut operations deputy lead at the European Space Agency. “A varied and nutritious diet tailored to individual needs is crucial for successful deep space missions.” Currently, astronauts rely on small pouches of prepared meals that are freeze-dried, dehydrated, or thermostabilized. These meals are rehydrated with water and heated or cooled for consumption. Special meals from home can be brought along but must also meet strict formulation and stabilization criteria.


Certain foods are off-limits in space. Crumbly items like bread are avoided due to the risk of crumbs becoming airborne in microgravity, potentially being inhaled or damaging equipment. Salt intake is limited because of altered sodium storage in the body in space, which can accelerate osteoporosis. Alcohol is prohibited as it affects the ISS’s waste water recycling system.


The Challenge of Variety

“Astronauts on six-month missions miss crunchy and textured foods,” says Brungs. “Variety is vital for mental wellbeing, especially on long missions.” To address this, NASA launched the Deep Space Food Challenge in 2021, seeking innovative ways to produce safe, nutritious, and tasty food with minimal resources and waste for long-term space missions.


Innovations in Space Food

One of the most promising innovations comes from Solar Foods in Helsinki, which reached the challenge’s final phase with their concept of creating protein from space waste. “We make food out of thin air,” says Artuu Luukanen, Solar Foods’ senior vice president in Space and Defence. Their process involves an edible microbe that grows on a mixture of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and oxygen, resulting in a protein source from bacteria. This protein can be blended with various flavors and textures to create nutritious foods like pasta, protein bars, alternative meats, and even egg substitutes.


“Space habitats naturally produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide as waste gases,” explains Luukanen. “Our technology not only creates food but integrates into the environmental control and life support system.”

Solar Foods’ protein can be transformed into pastes or powders and combined with flour to create protein-enriched foods. Experiments are underway to mix it with oils and use 3D printing to produce steak-like textures.

Growing Fresh Produce in Space

Fresh produce is another consideration. While vitamin supplements help, astronauts need fresh vegetables. The ISS hosts a tiny vegetable garden called Veggie, where plant growth in microgravity is studied. On Earth, Interstellar Lab in Florida has developed a bioregenerative system for producing microgreens, vegetables, mushrooms, and even insects. This system, along with Enigma of the Cosmos’ microgreen-growing methods, are also finalists in NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge.

The Role of Fungi

Fungi are emerging as a significant component of future space food. Three of the six finalists in the Deep Space Food Challenge are working with fungi, including Mycorena from Gothenburg, Sweden. They use a combination of microalgae and fungi to produce mycoprotein, a versatile protein source from fungus used in alternative meat products.

“Fungi are highly versatile,” says Carlos Otero from Mycorena’s R&D team. “They grow on various substrates, are fast-growing, and can be cultivated in small, efficient systems. They are also robust, radiation-resistant, and easy to store and transport.”

Mycorena’s system produces mycoprotein in a closed-loop, circular system, creating a food that can be 3D printed to resemble chicken fillets. This protein source contains all essential amino acids needed for human health.

Space Tourism and Culinary Innovation

As private companies join the space race, opportunities for chefs to cater to space tourists are expanding. Chef Rasmus Munk of Michelin-starred restaurant Alchemist in Copenhagen, for example, has partnered with SpaceVIP to offer an immersive dining experience on Space Perspective’s Spaceship Neptune, with tickets costing $495,000 for a six-hour trip to the edge of space.

Earth Applications of Space Food Technology

The innovations in space food aren’t just for astronauts. The Deep Space Food Challenge aims to create advanced food systems that also benefit Earth, particularly in extreme environments and resource-scarce areas. “We face significant challenges with climate change, especially droughts affecting food production,” says Luukanen. “Space pushes us to utilize waste resources to create valuable products, embodying the philosophy of a circular economy.”

Kristina Karlsson, head of R&D at Mycorena, echoes this sentiment. “Our project focuses on resource efficiency for both Earth and space. With minimal emissions and waste, space presents an extreme environment to test these innovations. If it works in space, it will work on Earth.”

Looking Ahead

The third phase of NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge is underway, testing these projects in space-like conditions. While these novel foods are set to play a crucial role in astronauts’ diets, they also promise to revolutionize food production on Earth, addressing challenges posed by climate change and resource scarcity.

As we prepare to venture deeper into space, the future of food—both out there and here on Earth—looks promisingly innovative and sustainable.



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