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Astronauts to grow own food in Mars?

Astronauts travelling to Mars are considering growing their own food in a “kitchen garden” in space. This could be one of the greatest challenges to the first manned mission to Mars.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2011 12:26 IST

Astronauts travelling to Mars are mulling growing their own food in a “kitchen garden” in space and should also need adequate chef skills, according to a NASA scientist.

Maya R Cooper, a senior research scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center in the Space Food Systems Laboratory in Houston, Texas, says that feeding astronauts could be one of the greatest challenges to the first manned mission to Mars.

Cooper explained that the challenges of provisioning space vehicles and Martian surface bases begin with tangible factors, such weight and nutrition, and encompass psychological nuances, such as providing a varied, tasty menu that wards off boredom.

MarsThe solutions envisioned now include requiring astronauts to grow some of their own food and engage in much more food preparation than their counterparts on the International Space Station.

The major challenge is to balance weight, food acceptability and resource utilization, said Cooper. Astronauts currently dine on pre-packaged foods that are quick and easy to prepare and include everything from scrambled eggs to brownies.

Unfortunately, for flights on the space shuttles and the International Space Station, astronauts are currently allocated 3.8 pounds of food per day. The five-year round-trip mission to Mars would therefore mean almost 7,000 pounds of food per person.

“That's a clear impediment to a lot of mission scenarios,” said Cooper.

“We need new approaches. Right now, we are looking at the possibility of implementing a bioregenerative system that would involve growing crops in space and possibly shipping some bulk commodities to a Mars habitat as well. This scenario involves much more food processing and meal preparation than the current food system developed for the space shuttles and the International Space Station,” added Cooper.

“The NASA Advanced Food Technology project is currently working to address the issues of food variety, weight, volume, nutrition and trash disposal through research and external academic and commercial collaborations,” said Cooper.

Ten crops that fit those requirements have emerged as prime candidates for the Mars mission’s ‘kitchen garden’. They are lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, green onions, radishes, bell peppers, strawberries, fresh herbs and cabbages.

Cooper explained the concern at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

First Published: Aug 29, 2011 17:33 IST