One of the NASA space food bars.
Your average granola bar simply won’t cut it for a Mars-bound astronaut.
NASA food scientists are in the process of developing a new "food bar" (that’s seriously what they call it) that astronauts will be able to eat for breakfast every morning while on missions to deep space destinations like Mars or the moon.
At the moment, NASA astronauts have a variety of good tasting — but mostly questionable looking — options for breakfast and other meals on the International Space Station. If NASA crews start flying to the red planet as planned sometime in the 2030s, however, that variety won’t be viable.
The space agency’s Orion capsule, the craft designed to take people to and from Mars eventually, has a limited amount of room onboard. NASA is always striving to save weight for missions to orbit and beyond for a simple reason: heavier spacecraft need more propellant and are more difficult to launch to space.
This is where the food bars come in.
Scientists have created four bars — banana nut, orange cranberry, ginger vanilla and barbeque nut —- that could be used as meal replacements for astronauts on a journey to orbit the moon or even heading as far as Mars.
“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,” Jessica Vos, deputy health and medical technical authority for Orion, said in a statement.
“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.”
The space agency has a history of using food that is already widely available to people around the country.
Tang, for example, was developed by General Foods, but NASA flew it to space for the first time when John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. Astronauts on the Space Station still use powdered drinks today, NASA said.
But the Tang model won’t work for this newest food challenge.
“There’s no commercially-available bar right now that meets our needs, so we’ve had to go design something that will work for the crew, while trying to achieve a multi-year shelf-life,” said Takiyah Sirmons, a food scientist at NASA, said in the statement.
Beyond just creating a nutritious bar, NASA managers also need to take crew morale into consideration to figure out how often they can ask astronauts to eat these bars on long trips. (For lunch and dinner, Orion astronauts will be able to select from items that are similar to what Space Station crew members eat.)
Eating is one of the most basic human experiences, and having access to food you enjoy eating when you’re far from home is a key component of creating some kind of normalcy in an extreme situation.
Crewmembers on the Space Station, for example, tend to have fun with their food. Astronauts like sharing photos of their space tacos and burgers, even if they look pretty gross to the average Earthling.