Developing for the future

Each day we get closer to seeing humans being sent to Mars. There are many issues that scientists are working hard on to ensure the best life (and survival) possible for these brave people. But what can we learn from it here on Earth? Advances in environmental safety, psychological health, and of course…. food. FeedingTheAccelerator’s Heather Jonasson talks about developing food for the future.

 

I believe we are all familiar with NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In fact as a young child growing up near its facilities in Texas, I’m very familiar with it from numerous school trips and explorations around the open parts of the facilities to find the “anti-gravity room” some of my more mischievous classmates claimed to have experienced.

While I never found that room, I do remember picnics after our school trips outside the facility on the lawn with large rockets looming over us, helping to shade the hot Texas sun. On occasion, some of us children were actually drinking Tang, the powdered orange drink famous for being used by NASA in 1962 on John Glenn’s Mercury flight. These days, space travel is expanding, and with it comes the need to develop quite a lot more than just a powdered drink to pack along.

NASA is greatly involved in technological innovations in food. Space exploration hopes to include colonies on Mars in the near future and the FTCSC (Food Technology Commercial Space Center) at NASA is working on research and development to extend the life of the food that we need to survive. Areas of recycling food wastes and keeping food safe are extremely important to establishing a working society that may not have conditions to produce many of their own food products, especially with the right levels of nutrition. Food systems also must be developed for space travel while being safe and wholesome for the body.

It’s simply not possible to send current food supplies in a reasonable amount of time from Earth to Mars, so until Zefram Cochrane invents that warp drive, the people on Mars will have to learn to recycle and grow their own food while at the same time, maintaining nutrition. But research is also being done in developing the longevity of food so that it will keep and be able to travel long distances, which will alter how we package and distribute food on Earth. Distribution of shelf life can help people in countries where food is in decay. This could also increase the potential for stockpiling aid that can be rapidly deployed in times of need.

One possibility is to send food made from algae and insects, which is rich in protein and easier to carry in small amounts. Obviously, the people on Mars will need to grow their own food in greenhouses, but without the soil we are used to. Technology is being developed to cooperate with Martian soil as well as a smart selection of plants that can also produce oxygen and help clear the air of carbon dioxide.

Now, one might say, that’s interesting for the 20 people heading to Mars, but what’s in it for me? Well, the same could be said for space exploration in general and traveling to the moon, but out of this our society gained fabric that is stronger than steel and breathing systems for firefighters. The satellites we now have monitor our weather conditions and ozone holes – all of which contributes to our longevity.

Solving the problems of nutrition for inhabitants on Mars is also solving the problems of nutrition for life on Earth. With scientists focusing on food and crop solutions, we have more focus than ever on solving what is also a problem for over 805 million people struggling with hunger every day because of environmental conditions or poverty.

And what about other ways to manufacture food? We have all heard talk about the 3D printing of food, but how does it work? There are many different designs at the moment. 3Dprintingindustry.com reports about NASA’s research into this field for sustaining astronauts on long missions:

“With raw ingredients in pre-packaged capsules, SMRC’s food printer could combine different individual ingredients to 3D print a wider variety of meals than previously possible with ready-made space foods.”

Once the technology is there, then researchers can concentrate on ways to add the right vitamins and nutrients. We aren’t quite to the Star Trek food replicators yet, but here is a video of Systems and Materials Research Corporation in Texas producing a pizza with their 3D food printer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uphIwHFz0no

Technology is currently being used by competing teams to develop seeds that will provide a sustainable food source on Mars, according to a recent article in The Guardian. As well as surviving and providing adequate nutrients, the hope is that the new plants will also help contribute to the oxygen content, an innovation that can also be used here on Earth. It’s a fascinating project and an important challenge that we must focus on as our population increases, space travel advances, and our climate changes. We need to be focusing on the future of food.

 

Heather is an authentic Texas girl, saving up money to someday be able to print her own 3D food – Earl Grey, hot. She is the twitter expert at FeedingThe Accelerator. You can follow her at @FeedAccelerator and @heatheraudrey