After decades of nutritional studies and advancements in food technology, NASA has shifted its focus away from dietary formulas and supplements to offer as many nutrients from vegetables and fruits as possible.
Food sourced from an assortment of natural resources can offer an array of phytochemicals or biologically active compounds gotten from dietary supplements.
An Astronomy article said, most people who have access to various sources of food do not need to worry about meal preparation quite as much as NASA.
In space, the article specified, where astronauts are faced with drastic physical and environmental changes, the necessity for safe, nutritious, and energy-filled food is specifically essential to general health.
According to the lead scientist for NASA's Advanced Food Technology research group at the Johnson Space Center, Grace Douglas, they have crews who need to perform and be healthy at extremely high levels for excessively stressful situations.
Effect of Food on Space Travelers
The lead scientist also said that food affects every aspect of physiology, and food can either make one very healthy or even make an individual very ill.
A robust nutritious food system for space travel, she explained, can have positive results for the performance and wellbeing of a space crew.
However, for those who travel far from the Earth's food supply, it is especially challenging to produce, transport, and prepare healthy food.
Further, than providing energy and nourishment, space meals need to be palatable and remain safe for months, or even years, or consumption.
Most importantly, according to NASA, space food needs to offer adequate energy to fuel astronauts on their exhausting missions.
Without an adequate caloric intake which is exceeding earthly needs and ranging roughly 2,700 to 3,700 daily calorie intake, astronauts are said to be risking losing body mass, nutrition's key marker.
Space history has it that astronauts have eaten as little as 60 percent of their recommended ideal calorie intake during space missions.
Data gathered from more recent missions, nonetheless, present that more space travelers are currently eating enough and, thus, more possible to enhance their nutrient levels.
Much like on this planet, a lack of specific vitamins and nutrients can be harmful to a person's health, including his heart, brain, and immune system.
Specifically, in a microgravity environment, the right nutrition can fight the resulting bone and muscle degradation.
For instance, vitamins C, D, and K aid in producing synthesizing calcium into bone. When incorporated with exercise, they help astronauts retain the strength of bone and muscle against the harmful impacts of microgravity.
Dietary supplements, on the other hand, such as omega 3 fatty acids, iron, and B12, make up for dietary deficiencies and decrease the microgravity-induced weakening of "eyesight, muscle mass, and blood oxygen levels." Generally, if it is good for someone on Earth, it will be good for one on spaceflights, explained Douglas.
Technology for Food Preservation
It can be challenging to depend strongly on fruits and vegetables as a pace food source since, while they can be filled with nutrients, they do not contain too many calories. This postures a problem for spaceflight, where cargo room is said to be precious.
To obtain food to an acceptable mass and extend its shelf life, the NASA food systems team utilizes technology like freeze trying and retort thermal sterilization, a process typically used in the industry of cunning to sterilized food by heating it following the packaging process.
Such a process helps in food preservation, not to mention reduces its bulk. Scientists then store it in the space vehicle within flexible, lightweight packaging that appears like the tuna packaging sold in the grocery stores.
According to Douglas, similar processes that were good three decades back are still the ones that are best to date for space food production.
Related information on the space food system is shown on NASA's YouTube video below: