Researchers develop ‘perfect meal’ for male astronauts

Long-term Space travellers have different nutritional needs to Earth-dwellers. They burn more calories, and need additional micronutrients, such as calcium, due to extended exposure to microgravity.

Food production also has different requirements in the context of space travel. For future long-term missions, it needs to be circular.

Now, researchers have developed a meal that fits both the nutritional requirements of an astronaut, and the production requirements of future space missions themselves, such as potential missions to Mars.

To nutrition and beyond

Nutrition is important in space. Calcium in particular is needed, as Volker Hassel, one of the researchers, told FoodNavigator. “The blood system expands and the heart might have to pump more. In the medium run bone loss happens; up to 20% weight within some months. Calcium is building bones, as calcium apatite. Calcium supply can help to reduce bone loss in space.”

In order to develop an optimal meal for male astronauts, researchers used a model called linear programming to computationally determine how well different combinations of food could meet the nutritional demands of astronauts while at the same time using as little water as possible.

They also looked at the sustainability of the different ingredients, and tried to choose those that required little time, area and fertilizer to grow. Ten scenarios were tested – six omnivorous ones (combining meat and crops) and four vegetarian (crops only). Crops were assessed by their degree of circularity, using metrics such as waste generation and degree of recyclability.