Space cuisine: Meals that are out of this world

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Space cuisine: Meals that are out of this world

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Space cuisine: Meals that are out of this world

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Companies and researchers are developing the most innovative and efficient way to feed people in space.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • June 9, 2023

    One of the biggest hurdles in long-duration space travel is developing a sustainable and nourishing food system that can withstand the harsh conditions of interplanetary missions. Scientists are working towards creating meals that provide essential nutrients and are safe, compact, and easy to prepare in space.

    Space cuisine context

    The recent boom in space tourism is a result of technological breakthroughs, which have opened up the possibility of exploring beyond our planet's limits. Tech billionaires like Elon Musk and Richard Branson have taken a keen interest in this new industry and are investing heavily in space travel. While current space tourism offerings are limited to suborbital flights, companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are working on developing orbital spaceflight capabilities, allowing humans to stay in space for extended periods.

    However, deep space exploration is the ultimate goal, with the establishment of human settlements on the Moon and beyond in the 2030s. This objective poses significant challenges, one of which is creating food that can survive interplanetary travel and remain nutritious. The food and agriculture sectors are working with astronauts to develop food systems that can support long-term space exploration under extreme conditions.

    Hundreds of studies are being conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) to develop space cuisine. These range from observing animal and plant cells under microgravity to creating autonomous systems that manage cell growth. Researchers are experimenting with growing crops like lettuce and tomatoes in space and have even started developing plant-based alternatives like cultured meat. The research on space cuisine also has significant implications for food production on Earth. With the global population set to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, based on United Nations (UN) estimates, developing sustainable food production methods is a pressing issue. 

    Disruptive impact

    In 2021, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched its Deep Space Food Challenge to fund global studies that deal with food manufacturing in outer space. The goal was to develop a sustainable food system supporting deep-space destinations. The submissions were diverse and promising.

    For example, Finland’s Solar Foods used a unique gas fermentation process that produces Solein, a single-cell protein, using only air and electricity. This process has the potential to provide a sustainable and nutrient-rich protein source. Meanwhile, Enigma of the Cosmos, an Australian company, used a microgreen production system that adjusts efficiency and space based on the crop’s growth. Other international winners included Electric Cow of Germany, which suggested using microorganisms and 3D printing to convert carbon dioxide and waste streams directly into food, and JPWorks SRL of Italy, which developed the "Chloe NanoClima," a contamination-proof ecosystem for growing nano plants and microgreens.

    Meanwhile, in 2022, Aleph Farms, a sustainable meat startup, sent cow cells to the ISS to study how muscle tissue forms under microgravity and develop space steak. The Japanese consortium Space Foodsphere was also selected by the Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries to create a food system that can support Moon expeditions. 

    Implications of space cuisine

    Wider implications of space cuisine may include:

    • Autonomous space labs that can monitor and adjust conditions based on the type of plants or cells being grown. This system includes sending real-time information back to Earth.
    • Space farms on the Moon, Mars, and aboard space crafts and stations that are self-sustaining and can be transplanted on different kinds of soil.
    • A growing market for a space cuisine experience as space tourism transitions into the mainstream by the 2040s.
    • Increased food security for people living in extreme environments on Earth, such as deserts or polar regions.
    • The creation of new markets for space food products, which could stimulate economic growth and innovation in the food industry. This trend could also lead to increased demand for agricultural and food production technologies, which could drive down costs and improve efficiency.
    • Developing space food systems leading to innovations in hydroponics, food packaging, and food preservation, which could have applications on Earth as well.
    • Significant labor demand in research and development, testing, and manufacturing. 
    • The development of closed-loop systems that recycle waste and regenerate resources. 
    • New insights into human nutrition and physiology, which could influence healthcare techniques and technologies. 
    • The creation of new cultural foods and culinary traditions that originate from space-based agriculture and exploration initiatives.

    Questions to consider

    • Would you be interested in eating space cuisine?
    • How else do you think space cuisine can change how we produce food on Earth?