What will astronauts eat on deep space missions? ‘Neurogastronomy’ may have the answer.

    Crew members of Expedition 60 aboard the International Space Station float around the ingredients of a meal they are preparing.

Crew members of Expedition 60 aboard the International Space Station float around the ingredients of a meal they are preparing.

Scientists and chefs alike are working to revolutionize food technology to determine what astronauts will eat on missions that take them off Earth for years to maintain their physical and mental health.

Humanity is in the midst of preparations for the next era of space exploration, which will involve extended sojourns on the lunar surface and manned travel beyond the moon, potentially to the surface of Mars. NASA’s Artemis program has undergone its first test flight and is expected to return humanity to the moon by 2025. Next, NASA will attempt to use the moon as a springboard for a manned mission to Mars.

Working with the Humanity in Deep Space initiative, University of Kentucky chef Bob Perry is cooking up a recipe for food and nutrition on longer space missions. To do this, the team is looking at human taste perception and how the brain uses sensory data to experience and remember food. This study, called neurological gastronomy or “neurogastronomy”, allows us to consider the “human factor” when thinking about the health and nutrition of astronauts.

Related: Space food: why astronauts on Mars won’t have to keep chips (video)

Neurogastronomy examines the relationship between humans, the food they eat, and where the food comes from, and this can be applied to the practicalities of eating in deep space.

“A major concern is the psychological impact on astronauts during long duration space missions,” Bob Perry, food laboratory coordinator at the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and founder of the International Society of Neurogastronomy, said in a statement. “Through pioneering research and flight experiments, neurogastronomy explores various fascinating areas.”

Vacuum-packed foods sit on a tray with a small pair of scissors, a fork, and a knife.

Vacuum-packed foods sit on a tray with a small pair of scissors, a fork, and a knife.

Humanity and Deep Space founding member Kris Kimel said a trip to Mars from Earth would take about seven months each way, with astronauts needing to spend about a year on the Martian surface to investigate the Red Planet. That means Mars explorers could spend two to three years away from the home comforts of Earth.

“Understanding the relationship between the brain, the gut and the effects of long-term spaceflight is critical,” added Kimel, a graduate of the UK’s College of Social Work. “Growing food while traveling becomes a necessity.”

International Space Station (ISS) crew members have already experimented with growing lettuce and other crops, but the challenge is ramping up production to support a crew of several for space stays longer than a few months.

astronauts float in a space station while eating lettuce

astronauts float in a space station while eating lettuce

Another critical aspect of astronaut food research is understanding how the microgravity environment of space affects the digestive process and the communities of microorganisms that live in the stomach, the gut microbiome. Examining gut health through the lens of neurogastronomy could help develop tailored diets for astronauts that optimize the number of nutrients they absorb while in deep space.

Preserving the “joy of food” away from the Earth

Another aspect of the deep space experience that the team aims to understand is how microgravity affects the senses of taste and smell. This could help better formulate food that ensures crews don’t miss out on the enjoyment of food while they’re away from Earth.

Furthermore, the exploration of new preservation and fermentation approaches could not only ensure food supplies last for the duration of long space missions, but could also mean that there is variety in astronauts’ diets. This diversity of food flavors and textures could be important for astronauts’ psychological health by limiting so-called ‘menu fatigue’.

“The isolation and confinement experienced in deep space can profoundly affect human psychology. If you go back in history, you find a table where people gather to eat food in every single society,” Perry said. “Zero-gravity cooking tools and applications become essential tools for space travelers, enabling them to meet challenges and prepare meals in a microgravity environment. Astronauts also need to connect through food even in these extraordinary circumstances.”

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While primarily focused on deep space, the work undertaken by Perry and the Humanity and Deep Space Initiative may also have implications closer to home, here on Terra Firma.

That’s because the knowledge and technology gained by Perry and the team could help lead to a closed-loop sustainable food system in space that could then be applied here on Earth. Optimizing the use of resources for deep space missions could also help improve food sustainability and reduce food waste for humans on our planet.

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Image Source : news.yahoo.com

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