Despite what those freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches from the museum gift shop might lead you to believe, designing astronaut food is a lot more complex than it might appear. Nobody understands this better than the NASA food scientists who are currently planning a menu for the prospective 3-year mission to Mars, which the agency hopes to complete by the 2030s.
There are the limitations you would probably expect: The food must all be freeze-dried, non-perishable, and have shelf life of at least two years. It must be well-seasoned enough to account for the diminished sensation of taste experienced in zero gravity. It must be comforting to homesick palates (think meatloaf and mashed potatoes). The distance to Mars adds further challenges; unlike the International Space Station, which receives resupplies every six months, the Mars mission must be supplied in one go.
So what's the next generation of space food look like? A lot like vegan Thai pizza. Seriously. That is what's being touted as the one of dishes that will likely make the cut. It's comfort food that can be tweaked with enough spice to keep it from tasting bland, and since no meat or dairy products go up in space, its an easy way to provide nutrients.
It's also conducive to another potential development: interplanetary produce gardens. Since Mars has limited gravity, astronauts might be able to set up their own hydroponic gardening systems to grow things like tomatoes, carrots, peppers and herbs. NASA even admits that there's a good chance that there will be an astronaut on the next mission whose sole job is dedicated to food preparation. Can Mario Batali in a space suit be that far off?
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