When Americans venture out to Mars and other destinations beyond Earth orbit, one thing they won’t have to leave behind is Thanksgiving dinner.
NASA scientists are working on technologies to extend the shelf life of foods to up to seven years. That’s more about triple the amount of time foods currently flown aboard the International Space Station are considered useable, said Kloeris, manager of NASA’s Space Food Systems Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.
Which is not to say that foods, including the holiday dinner NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson be sharing with their crewmates aboard the space station on Thursday, are unsafe to eat after two years, just that they might not be as tasty or provide as much nutrition, Kloeris said in an interview with Seeker.
Taste and nutrition are among the key challenges scientists face as they work to develop foods that will keep astronauts happy, healthy and productive during a three-year mission to Mars.
Because food will be among the cargo flown to Mars before any people arrive, NASA figures it needs to have a shelf life of between five and seven years. Astronauts would eat the oldest foods during the six- to nine-month journey back to Earth.
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Seven-year-old turkey may not sound very appetizing, but NASA, in partnership with military researchers, is looking at two promising technologies that could make it a reality.
The first method, called high-pressure processing, is similar to how canned foods are prepared today, but with less heat and more pressure.
“The idea would be that your initial (food) quality after processing would be higher and your initial nutrient content would be higher because you have used less heat,” Kloeris said.
Because it started off better quality, the food would take longer to degrade, giving it a longer shelf life, she said.