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Keywords:

  • food packaging;
  • food safety;
  • Mars;
  • shelf life;
  • space food

Abstract:  Even though significant development has transformed the space food system over the last 5 decades to attain more appealing dietary fare for low-orbit space crews, the advances do not meet the need for crews that might travel to Mars and beyond. It is estimated that a food system for a long-duration mission must maintain organoleptic acceptability, nutritional efficacy, and safety for a 3- to 5-y period to be viable. In addition, the current mass and subsequent waste of the food system must decrease significantly to accord with the allowable volume and payload limits of the proposed future space vehicles. Failure to provide the appropriate food or to optimize resource utilization introduces the risk that an inadequate food system will hamper mission success and/or threaten crew performance. Investigators for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Advanced Food Technology (AFT) consider identified concerns and work to mitigate the risks to ensure that any new food system is adequate for the mission. Yet, even with carefully planned research, some technological gaps remain. NASA needs research advances to develop food that is nutrient-dense and long-lasting at ambient conditions, partial gravity cooking processes, methods to deliver prescribed nutrients over time, and food packaging that meets the mass, barrier, and processing requirements of NASA. This article provides a brief review of research in each area, details the past AFT research efforts, and describes the remaining gaps that present barriers to achieving a food system for long exploration missions.