When cooking up meal options for astronauts during long-term missions, space agencies prioritize food variety, nutritional value, and taste. Winners of the first phase of NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge met those marks by growing vegetables in Mars-like conditions, turning microalgae into a crispy snack and baking bread on a space shuttle.
These foods could some day feed astronauts on future missions to the moon and Mars, reports Sherry Liang for CNN. The competition aims to solve nutrition issues in space as well as food security problems on Earth.
“Our approach to deep space human exploration is strengthened by new technological advances and diverse community input. This challenge helps us push the boundaries of exploration capabilities in ways we may not recognize on our own,” says Jim Reuter, an associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a statement.
The Deep Space Food Challenge started in January in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Methuselah Foundation as part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program. The Centennial Challenges program, founded in 2005, invites the public to submit ideas on new initiatives, like designing a 3-D printed home on Mars or creating functional blood vessels in a lab.
For Phase 1 of the Deep Space Food Challenge, teams were asked to design food production technology that would support a crew of four astronauts during long-term space missions without resupplying. Teams must also achieve an outstanding amount of food output with minimal inputs and virtually no waste, CNN reports. Submissions were split into different categories of manufactured food, bio culture, and plant growth.
Both NASA and CSA selected a total of 38 winning teams from a variety of experience levels, including professional chefs, students and small business owners. Winners each received $25,000 to advance their ideas and have been invited to participate the second phase of the challenge, reports Robert Z. Pearlman for Space.com.
Among the winners, one team from Germany was selected for its submission titled “Electric Cow,” which proposed turning carbon dioxide and waste streams into food using microorganisms and 3-D printing. Another group from Finland submitted a proposal titled “Solar Foods,” which aimed to create protein through gas fermentation. A team from Hawthorne, Florida, proposed “Space Bread,” ready-to-bake bread packaged in a multifunctional plastic bag, Space.com reports.
Participants moving on to the second phase were announced on NASA Television by celebrity chefs Martha Stewart and Lynn Crawford and retired astronauts NASA’s Scott Kelly and CSA’s Chris Hadfield, per a statement.
While the Deep Space Food Challenge focused on submissions geared towards space, the concepts can also be applied to food sustainability and insecurity on Earth by producing nutrient-rich foods in urban settings or in harsh climates where growing fresh food is a challenge, CNN reports.