Business Unusual

Humans will be returning to the moon, but how will they be fed?

The usual focus of stories about manned missions to Mars revolves around the means to get there and how to survive the harsh environment, but a significant focus by scientists and engineers is how to keep those traveling in space fed.

With NASA having secured the budget it needs to commission manned missions to the moon, the plans for space nutrition is worth exploring.

The International Space Station (ISS) is the best laboratory for how best to keep humans alive in space and what foods work.

The ISS stores many months worth of specially created and packed food that is both nutritionally balanced and easy to store and consume.

Watch how food is prepared on board the ISS

The reality though is that it requires a lot of sacrifices. The most significant one is fresh products such as fruit. Fresh fruit is sent in re-supply missions, but they are consumed first and do not last long after it arrives.

Even something as simple as salt and pepper needs to be be kept in a liquid form to prevent the issues of sprinkling something in zero gravity.

There have been supply issues to the ISS when a resupply ship has failed or a liftoff gets delayed, but the frequency and time it takes to get supplies to the ISS is a very different prospect to what would be needed even with an orbiting station around the moon and even more so with operations on the moon or on mars.

The challenges of distance and weight require us to create food in space, not shuttle it.

You can't simply use salt and pepper in zero gravity, the condiments need to be used in liquid form. Picture credit: NASA

Hydroponics

The common use of hydroponics today comes from the space program in the 80s looking at growing food without using heavy soil and dramatically reducing water use. Hydroponics achieves both; using no soil and about 1% of the water of plants grown in the ground.

It still it limited to certain foods that work well and would also be susceptible to a bacterial or fungal attack. Should a crop fail in space, the option to restart it would be very difficult.

A crop that is being tested as one of the first staples is the potato and there is currently an International Potato Center growing potatoes on Mars-like conditions to find the best variety for the missions.

A separate experiment underway is to explore 3D printing food so that nutrient sources can be recombined into something that looks more appealing to astronauts and can allow for a greater variety of food types created from a set of basic ingredients. Pizza was the first attempt.

Taking animals into space is a whole different ball game and they are unlikely to feature until a there is a manned moon base.

Fish are likely to be the first to join us for our travels and may even be part of the plant farming operation in a process known as aquaponics.

Astronaut Don Petit maintained a very entertain blog written from the point of view of the baby marrow plant he grew as part of his studies on the ISS in 2011.

While the blog was a way to public report on the experiments, there is a potential added benefit to having space travellers tend plants, it may work as a form of horticultural therapy that may be just what is needed on the expected seven-month voyage to Mars.

There are many problems still to address and overcome. The opportunity is not only in allowing us to survive off-world but to possibly solve challenges with current agricultural issues as a result.

The space program is full of everyday projects that grew from a specific problem in space. Water filters, smoke detectors, the computer mouse, cordless drills, ceiling insulation all come from solving problems associated with space travel.

702 welcomes all comments that are constructive, contribute to discussions in a meaningful manner and take stories forward.

However, we will NOT condone the following:

  • Racism (including offensive comments based on ethnicity and nationality)
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Religious intolerance
  • Cyber bullying
  • Hate speech
  • Derogatory language
  • Comments inciting violence.

We ask that your comments remain relevant to the articles they appear on and do not include general banter or conversation as this dilutes the effectiveness of the comments section.

We strive to make the 702 community a safe and welcoming space for all.

702 reserves the right to: 1) remove any comments that do not follow the above guidelines; and, 2) ban users who repeatedly infringe the rules.

Should you find any comments upsetting or offensive you can also flag them and we will assess it against our guidelines.

702 is constantly reviewing its comments policy in order to create an environment conducive to constructive conversations.

Read More
This sport requires you to run, drive and fight all while remaining seated

This sport requires you to run, drive and fight all while remaining seated

eSports are more than just a game now and may even be an Olympic sport by 2024.

Great ideas, wrong time

Great ideas, wrong time

The iPhone, Ebay and Facebook, we all know these killer applications but what about their very similar predecessors that flopped.

The world of business is changing, here is what you need to know.

The world of business is changing, here is what you need to know.

Companies, institutions and principles, nothing is safe from the impact of the 4th industrial revolution.

What 30 years of data tells us about the past and future of the super wealthy

What 30 years of data tells us about the past and future of the super wealthy

Changes to the Forbes Rich List is like a financial history of the world, reflecting economic booms and busts.

Everything you need to know about the dark web, but were too afraid to ask

Everything you need to know about the dark web, but were too afraid to ask

The recent closure of two illegal online marketplaces selling contraband has put the dark web back in the spotlight.

The Alibaba Group does not see itself as a company but an economy

The Alibaba Group does not see itself as a company but an economy

Alibaba founder Jack Ma says the future is his biggest competitor and he wants young entrepreneurs to help him succeed.

Popular articles
Getting to know MP, Dr Makhosi Khoza

Getting to know MP, Dr Makhosi Khoza

Dr Khoza is admired by South Africans for her role in the SABC inquiry as a ANC member of parliament.

10 sexting tips on how to keep things spicy (and safe)

10 sexting tips on how to keep things spicy (and safe)

Interested in sexting but worried about the risks? Dr Eve has created a guideline to help you 'sext' in a fun and responsible way.

It's not the end of the road... Top tips to improve your matric

It's not the end of the road... Top tips to improve your matric

"Recognise that it’s not the end, it’s the beginning." Expert advise for school-leavers who want to improve their results.

Gospel singer Sipho Makhabane explains how Sfiso Ncwane died

Gospel singer Sipho Makhabane explains how Sfiso Ncwane died

Makhabane says Ncwane was feeling weak yesterday and his wife phoned paramedics to check on him.

Who is Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi?

Who is Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi?

The EFF lawyer stole the show during the state capture report court battle.

Meet the founder of Capitec Bank, named ‘Best Bank on Earth and Cheapest in SA’

Meet the founder of Capitec Bank, named ‘Best Bank on Earth and Cheapest in SA’

Michiel le Roux speaks about the fascinating story behind the little bank that has the Big 4 shaking in their boots.

3 easy questions could bag you R2000!

3 easy questions could bag you R2000!

WIN R2000! But only if you can prove you're a whiz of the MTN Biz Quiz by answering the following three questions...

Blesserfinder: Matching you with a sugar daddy near you

Blesserfinder: Matching you with a sugar daddy near you

Is social trend Blesserfinder, where girls are allegedly matching up with rich 'benefactors' in exchange for sex, a real thing?

5 ways the NSFAS funding model will change in 2017

5 ways the NSFAS funding model will change in 2017

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will pilot a new funding model in 2017. NSFAS chairperson Sizwe Nxasana explains.