New Delhi: An astronaut's diet holds immense importance, especially when they're on deep space missions. With NASA's next missions being exactly that, the space agency is preparing a robust diet that the crew about to travel beyond the moon aboard the Orion spacecraft will be provided.
The astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) can eat more freely compared to those on deep space missions, since their diet management poses a unique challenge for various reasons, including the fact that the Orion spacecraft is low on storage space.
As per NASA, Orion has limited room inside it to accommodate the supplies and food astronauts will need during their missions. Because flights to deep space will not rely on resupply spacecraft to deliver what astronauts need and dispose of trash, the Orion crew will have to take everything they need with them and bring it all back home. Given the distances Orion will travel, teams also must limit Orion’s mass, since a heavier spacecraft requires more fuel and energy to propel it to its ultimate destination.
To tackle these obstacles, scientists are in the process of developing a variety of food bars, which will not only reduce the baggage that astronauts will carry along, but will also be able to provide them with the necessary dietary requirements. NASA says that they will be able to eat the food bars for breakfast during their spaceflight missions.
Since, in the United States, it’s common for people to substitute an energy bar or shake for breakfast, or to skip the meal all together. Food scientists determined that developing a single calorically dense breakfast substitution can help meet mass reduction requirements, NASA said.
“When you have 700 to 900 calories of something, it’s going to have some mass regardless of what shape it’s in, so we’ve taken a look at how to get some mass savings by reducing how we’re packaging and stowing what the crew would eat for breakfast for early Orion flights with crew,” said Jessica Vos, deputy health and medical technical authority for Orion. “When you think about multi-week missions in Orion, having just one package for breakfast items for crew will help us limit the space we need to store them.”
NASA further stated that, on the space station, crew members often pull their desired breakfast from a range of options available, and may eat items from multiple thermostabilized or rehydratable packages. Thermostabilized foods are heat processed to destroy harmful micro-organisms and enzymes, while rehydratable foods have their water content removed before flight to save weight and then added back in before they are consumed.
On Orion, the goal is to have a number of food bars to select from in a variety of flavors like orange cranberry or barbeque nut for their first meal of the day, reducing the amount of space and storage the breakfasts require. For lunch and dinner, Orion astronauts will be able to select from similar items space station crew members eat and have a food warmer to help them prepare their meals.
But designing a food bar to a specific nutritional balance for astronauts while also increasing caloric density and passing the taste test is no small task.
Another dietary challenge that scientists have to face is to consider how the bars will affect crew morale, since food choice, variety and taste are important aspects of ensuring they consume enough, especially as mission lengths increase.
Orion’s first mission with its crew will launch as early as 2021 atop the powerful Space Launch System rocket currently in development. The flight aims to help lay the foundation for future missions in the proving ground around and beyond the moon, where NASA will refine the technologies and operations needed to send astronauts to Mars.
Check out the video NASA shared, which shows food scientist Takiyah Sirmons and Orion's deputy health and medical technical authority, Jessica Vos, talking about the food bars, below:
(Video courtesy: NASA Johnson)