back to article NASA offers foodies, boffins $500,000 to find ways for astronauts to make their own dinners on the Moon, Mars

NASA has teamed up with the Canadian Space Agency to launch a competition to challenge foodies and engineers to design new food production systems that will feed future astronauts exploring the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Far away from the lush lands of terra firma where fresh fruit, vegetables, and animals for meat are grown, the …

  1. Chris G

    I think it is rather limiting to restrict prizes to only US and Canadian entrants but no surprise.

    I imagine a space borne engieered variant of the Quorn fungus ( a type of fusarium) might be a potential source of protein, if they could come up with a way to feed it on space waste.

    Or are we going to see Uber or Deliveroo going cosmic?

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Yup, it's an interesting challenge, eg-

      The fungus is grown in continually oxygenated water in large, otherwise sterile fermentation tanks. Glucose and fixed nitrogen are added as a food for the fungus, as are vitamins and minerals to improve the food value of the product.

      Sounds vaguely doable, if you could create a fairly closed system to create oxygen, and recover vitamins, minerals, nitrogen from waste. But the Quorn product also requires egg white, so space chickens! Which I guess could also mean recyclable calcium, ie grinding up egg shells to fortify other foods.

      But demonstrating viable fermenation in space also provides a pathway to other essentials, like space beer. Or just alcohol in general. But the article reminded me of a Dutch (naturally) experiment to see what happened to beer in microgravity. Which from memory mostly resulted in the way bubbles were distributed, which then got me wondering if microgravity would make baking perfect sponges and souffles simpler.

    2. jake Silver badge

      "I think it is rather limiting to restrict prizes to only US and Canadian entrants but no surprise."

      Look at the size of those prizes ... it's for kids. NASA and the CSA are catering to their mandate to engage the yoof.

      1. Chris G


        If it's for kids, that would explain the tone of the video. I automatically assumed, given the significance of being able to produce food both in transit as well as in a ground station that this was aimed at research and/or commercial foodies.

        1. jake Silver badge

          I'm assuming it's directed primarily at kids. The total NASA side of the prize fund is only half a million bucks, split evenly between 20 teams. That's $25,000 each, which is an awful lot for your average highschool, but when you get into University level it's merely OK money that might (might!) stretch to a quarter year's worth of research. Twenty five grand is nothing at all for corporations. It's not all that much for John Q Public working out of his shed, either.

      2. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Soylent Green.

        Nuff said.

    3. Lon24 Silver badge

      Pity, the French entry might have been updated to "Let them eat rock".

      Apparently the Brits have a very large unused supply in Blackpool.

  2. Queeg


    First your going to need a bag of Potatoes, some hydrazine, oh and some dirt.

    1. JJKing

      Re: Ok,

      Some dirt eh. I wonder where they could find some of that.....

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Ok,

      The documentary got that bit wrong ... Spuds can easily be grown hydroponically (or aquaponically), no dirt required.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Ok,

        Ok, then a bag of potatoes, some hydrazine, and a fishtank.

    3. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: Ok,

      Of course you'll need potatoes, you can't make a prawn vindaloo without potatoes!

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Surely the Mars Bar already answers this need?

    Or is that not allowed on the moon?

    Yes, the airtight one I think, thanks! -->

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: Surely the Mars Bar already answers this need?

      ...and the Milky Way for going anywhere further.

    2. Persona Silver badge

      Re: Surely the Mars Bar already answers this need?

      It's a good start, but to make a complete meal you would also need a deep fat fryer suitable for low gravity environments.

  4. Kev99 Silver badge

    How about a three wall chest with the fourth wall against an exterior wall of the spacecraft. No power chest freezer. Fill it with the complete menu of Stouffers Lean Cuisine frozen foods. Throw the empty packages into the engine exhaust for incineration.

    1. jake Silver badge

      "Throw the empty packages into the engine exhaust for incineration."

      I think you mispleled "added acceleration".

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "How about a three wall chest with the fourth wall against an exterior wall of the spacecraft. No power chest freezer."

      It's a good point. Why freeze-fried and not just frozen ready meals? Maybe the microwave is too much of weight burden. Is a freezer as you describe possible? Does it need a special sun screen around the external heat exchanger (just vanes to radiate, not mechanical obv.) or does the craft have to be oriented to keep the freezer external wall out of the sunlight?

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        I dunno the maths on this, but I suspect that having already lofted a number of fleshy meatsacks out of the gravity well, each of which automatically generates a significant quantity of H2O just by being there, might mean a double hit if you send extra water up with the grub.

        What might you be looking at - a kilo or two per astro-food-portion per day? It soon adds up, whereas in space, everything that goes around, comes around...

        p.s. How about some of Harry Harrison's dehyrated alcohol for emergencies?

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Meatsacks don't generate water, they contain water, some of which gets expelled and needs to be replaced on a regular basis. Some of it will be lost, some may be recycled. Likewise, freeze-dried food, by definition, is dry so needs water adding to it to rehydrate it. If it's already hydrated because it;s just frozen instead of dried, then the water in it is water you don't need to send up in the potable water tanks.

          I do like the idea of dehydrated alcohol though :-)

          Then again, I remember an April Fools story some years ago about sending cargo containers full of dehydrated water to drought hit areas :-)

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Don't meatsacks generate water from combustion of sugars? It's a long time since my Biology A-levels...

            1. Spherical Cow

              Yes, "metabolic water" is a thing.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Oh, thanks both. I didn't know that. That's why I come here. There's always something off topic to learn :-)

  5. Sparkus

    Space Poutine

    I'm all for it!

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Space Poutine

      Nothing else to do on the way to Mars but sit around and listen to your arteries harden ...

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: Nothing else to do

        Video games and (ahem) movies, same as on Earth. Mission control: "Mars 1, please remove the masking tape from camera 27." Or will there be curtains in space?

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    They should concentrate on making weeds (no, not that sort; those plant ecologists call "ruderals") palatable. Why? Because IME they always grow better than whatever it is I'm trying to grow.

    1. jake Silver badge

      We've already made the edible ones palatable. We call it "food".

    2. Spherical Cow

      Some weeds are palatable e.g. nettles, purslane, blackberries.

    3. JetSetJim

      A weed is defined as a plant you don't want. The second you want it, it is no longer a weed.

  7. jake Silver badge

    White on very light grey, NASA?

    I guess we have proof that Web design really isn't rocket science.

    1. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: White on very light grey, NASA?

      People don't go to Cape Canaveral to see NASA do live brain surgery!

  8. jake Silver badge

    Obvious answer is obvious. And one word.


    Putting together a complete healthy diet grown in minimal cubic footage per person would be easy. Water and mineral needs to sprout microgreens are recyclable[0]. Turn around time crop to crop is a week to ten days, two weeks on the outside for things like sunflower. Overlap harvests so you don't go hungry for a couple days after the occasional and inevitable operator error. Soil is not required, this can be done hydroponically. Note that the roots are also edible, in most cases. Fresh seed can be launched at several hundred G, making catching up with the crew fairly easy. Covers both resupply and the issue of long-term cosmic ray exposure. Harvest early for sprouts. Don't forget the herb seeds for flavo(u)r.

    Rice and beans as the bulk of the diet to keep the plumbing fully functional. Can be mixed and matched in all kinds of ways to minimize boredom. Suggestion: hire a damn good cook for the duration of the voyage.

    The only major issue is that I would imagine Johnson's leg would start to look awfully tasty after the first couple of years ... throwing twenty or thirty pounds of bacon, fat back and other seasoning meat into the seed, rice and bean supply rocket would go a long way to making this a non-problem.

    By way of reference, a friend is feeding 28 horses with food grown in two 40ft shipping containers. He's been at it for a few years now, and the horses are thriving. Including a couple of pregnant and/or lactating mares per season. For info on how, see Cropbox.

    [0] Seeds are self contained and only need water through their cotyledon leaves and up to about their first set of true leaves, after that they require additional nutrition for proper growth ... so if you want lettuce, you'll need to feed the seedlings. Humans waste plenty of easily collected nutrition, so that's hardly an issue.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Obvious answer is obvious. And one word.

      This. And the good cook. He has an incentive if he doesn't want to become lunch...

      I suspect managing changes in flavours might well be the significant chore. Perhaps the crew might be allowed a kilo of their favourite herbs and spices? No coriander/cilantro for me, thanks.

      Funny how with a whole planet to choose from, as a species we basically get by on a handful of plants for our carb and protein needs, and a rather larger handful for flavour.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Obvious answer is obvious. And one word.

        Yeah, we're pretty bad as a species. Take a look at your extended family's food consumption over a month or so. Most people eat the same thing for breakfast every day (if they eat breakfast), only two or three things for lunch (again "if"), and maybe 5 or six different things as their main meal. This monotony goes on week after week, month after month, year after year. Is it any wonder that any change (Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving) is welcomed with open arms?

        Kinda makes me wonder what they think they are looking at when they are inside a modern supermarket.

        1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

          Re: Obvious answer is obvious. And one word.

          I also have a very limited diet. Rice and beans on the stove right now. If ability to survive food boredom were the only requirement for being an astronaut, I would be overqualified.

          "Kinda makes me wonder what they think they are looking at when they are inside a modern supermarket."

          There's so much added sugar in most foods there, I think I'm looking at candy.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: Obvious answer is obvious. And one word.

            I have vague memories[1] that when TV dinners were introduced as ready meals in the 50s or 60s, they sold well for a couple of weeks and then folk stopped buying them - because they were too identical in flavour and texture. The makers added some randomisation and sales went up again.

            [1] I have vague memories of reading about... TV dinners weren't a thing when I was a kid.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: Obvious answer is obvious. And one word.

              I remember those! Dunno if this put people off them though-


              I had them as a kid in the '80s as a novelty. They weren't cheap, and only vaguely resembled what you'd hope for from a roast chicken/beef/pork dinner. Ready and not-so-ready meals are still a huge market, and judging from videos sponsored by HelloFresh, hugely profitable.

  9. DrXym Silver badge

    Jeff Surprise

    Ingredients: a crewmate called Jeff . Preparation: clonk him on the head when the food supplies get low.

  10. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Astronaut Food ... I loved that song!

    Astronaut food oh astronaut food, Puts me in a mood, Makes me mope and brood, Astronaut food, makes me wish, I was on the moon

    - Sopwith Camel, 1973 - The Miraculous Hump Returns From the Moon

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They just need to figure out ...

    ... how to stop the baked beans flying everywhere when the toaster pops.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Couldn’t they just borrow a replicator from Captain Picard?

    1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

      It's only a bog standard protein re-sequencer, or so I'm told by ->

  13. Atomic Duetto

    Space food sticks

    What happened to space food sticks.. I have a real craving for them now

    I’m not going to Mars with Elon unless he sorts that out..

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