As early as 2021, NASA is hoping to send four people on a mission around the Moon aboard their Orion spacecraft, the first manned mission for the new vehicle, called Exploration Mission 2.
But this mission, which will last between 10 and 14 days, presents some interesting challenges. Namely, space inside the vehicle will be incredibly limited, and with no habitation module, the team will have to pack as lightly as possible.
One particular problem this causes is food. On the comparatively roomy International Space Station (ISS), astronauts have a rudimentary kitchen and more than 200 items of food to choose from. But in Orion, these mod-cons will not be available.
So NASA’s Advanced Food Technology team at the Johnson Space Center has been working on space food bars, each packing 700 to 900 calories, which the astronauts will be able to eat for breakfast during the mission. The bar will be extremely dense, reducing the amount of space needed to store it on the mission.
“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,” said Jessica Vos, deputy health and medical technical authority for Orion, 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 bars come in a variety of flavors, including orange cranberry and barbecue nut, to give the astronauts something different to look forward to (or perhaps dread) each day.
Of course, NASA is hoping to eventually send humans to Mars in the 2030s, which will present a whole new host of challenges. The agency is already working on ways for astronauts to grow their own food during the journey of eight months or so each way. In fact, some vegetables have already been grown and eaten on the ISS.
For the most part, astronaut food on the ISS today is a far cry from the freeze-dried servings that were once on offer. It seems, though, that as we go deeper into space, we might need to re-learn some of those older lessons.