Space farmers needed for mission to Mars

A mission to Mars will need more than some fancy suits and a non-stick rover, say experts. Image / Thinkstock
A mission to Mars will need more than some fancy suits and a non-stick rover, say experts. Image / Thinkstock

Astronauts travelling to Mars are likely to be farmers and chefs as well as spacefarers.

Supplying enough food for a round trip to the Red Planet is one of the greatest challenges facing mission planners, experts were told.

One solution under consideration is for astronauts to grow their own food in a hi-tech "kitchen garden".

They would also need adequate cheffing skills to provide varied, tasty menus that lift spirits and ward off boredom.

Astronauts going to Mars would be far more food-savvy than their International Space Station colleagues.

Dr Maya Cooper, from the American space agency Nasa's Space Food Systems Laboratory in Houston, Texas, said a five year mission to Mars would require almost 3175 kilograms of food per person.

"That's a clear impediment to a lot of mission scenarios," she told the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Denver, Colorado.

"We need new approaches. Right now, we are looking at the possibility of implementing a bioregenerative system that would involve growing crops in space and possibly shipping some bulk commodities to a Mars habitat as well.

"This scenario involves much more food processing and meal preparation than the current food system developed for the space shuttles and the International Space Station."

Bioregenerative systems involve growing "multi-task" plants that not only provide food but also release oxygen for astronauts to breathe, remove the carbon dioxide they exhale, and even purify water.

Ideally such plants would have few inedible parts, grow easily with minimal tending, and take up little room.

Ten potential "space crops" that pass the test for a Mars mission are lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, green onions, radishes, bell peppers, strawberries, fresh herbs and cabbages.

Nasa expects to launch its first manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Another option is for long shelf-life provisions for an extended stay on Mars to be sent in unmanned spacecraft ahead of the human explorers.

Space food has come a long way since Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin reportedly munched on pate and caviar during the first manned spaceflight in 1961.

In the early days of space flight astronauts had to endure freeze-dried food blocks and toothpaste-like nutrient squeezed from tubes.

By the late 1960s astronauts were enjoying hot food in space, and in the 1970s they had a choice of 72 different foods, some of which were stored in an on-board refrigerator or freezer.

In recent years space shuttle astronauts have been able to breakfast on scrambled egg and coffee, snack on chocolates or brownies, and choose from lunch and dinner menus that include dishes such as Chicken a la King and rice pilaf.

The foods are pre-packaged and take only a few minutes to prepare.

- AAP

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