Out of this world salad created for astronauts

An international team of scientists have created a salad that contains ingredients that could be grown on space crafts and provide optimum nutrition for astronauts heading into deep space.

The research is part of programme being run by the University of Nottingham and University of Adelaide focusing on Astropharmacy, farming and food research. The researchers aim to design space farming systems and components for long-term space missions to meet the nutritional and psychological demands of astronauts.

Using WHO and NASA recommended daily dietary requirements for astronauts the research team created a computational model to predict the best combination of plants out of a selection of more than hundred that could provide an astronaut with a nutritionally complete and calorically balanced plant-based diet that requires not more food mass to be eaten than common on Earth.

The computer-based plant selection also needed to meet criteria of being grown in situ on the space crafts, restrict the choice to less than ten different plants (simplicity), be suitable for space farming systems (e.g. hydroponics), need lowest fertiliser uptake (payload), and require lowest planting area (compactness). The effect of food on the mood of the astronauts was also important to the project with colour, taste, texture, freshness and flavour also considered.

A ‘Space Salad’ was created to meet these needs that contained carefully measured quantities of: Soybean, Poppy, Barley, Kale, Peanuts, Sweet Potato and Sunflower Seeds.

Shu Liang led the research whilst she was a PhD studentat the University of Nottingham’s School of Biosciences, she said: “Food is such an integral part of staying healthy and happy and there are many factors that contribute to this. As well as the nutritional values and ability to grow the plants in space we also looked at other important aspects of a space diet to promote astronaut well-being including colour, taste and eating together.”

We have simulated a mix of 6-8 crops that deliver all the required nutrients to an astronaut, which is different to what people need on earth. While there are dozens of crops that can fulfill the nutrient demand, we needed to find those that could pack a punch and deliver the calories needed in smaller portions that could be grown in a small space.

A food psychology test “The Harmonic Psychology of a Space Salad” was conducted by Karolina Rivera-Osorio, member of NASA’s team Venus New Exploration Era. Four volunteers tasted the space salad and one concluded “wouldn’t mind eating this all week as an astronaut.”

The next stage of the research will be using digital twin modelling to design the growth chambers and systems that can grow the crops.

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