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One of the major constraints for long-duration space travel is the amount of supplies required simply for life support. A daily minimum of about 5 kg of dry food and water per person is needed without recycling, which for trips lasting several years like a Mars mission with a crew of four would represent about 20 tons of additional supplies to take on board.
A number of solutions exist to reduce these supplies by recycling water and partially air. Food is currently not recycled. What the astronauts eat on board the International Space Station (ISS) is currently brought from Earth by resupply vehicles. Solutions are being studied to take on board ‘nurseries’ that would constantly produce food, such as algae. There is a growing interest in using algae for food as they provide an abundant source of proteins as well as minerals and vitamins.
The European Space Agency (ESA) issued a tender to study the utilization of algae and other microorganisms for future space missions. A consortium of scientific organizations, led by the dynamic Institute Aerial, and supported by the International Space University (ISU), located in the same area, have been selected to perform this programme of and funded by ESA. The fact that two institutes, based in the Parc d’Innovation in Illkirch, France have been chosen for such a project makes the Urban Community of Strasbourg (CUS) very enthusiastic.
Mr. J. Bigot, president of CUS and mayor of Illkirch Graffenstaden, has confirmed to us that he is very pleased with this co-operation:
”Together with Ms Trautman, we have always been convinced by the fact that the establishment of ISU in the Innovation Park would result in synergies. The collaboration between Aerial and ISU is a truly successful example which goes in this direction. Moreover, the topic of food for human space flights to Mars propels Strasbourg once again further, in an even more innovating and visionary world. I am very proud to be the mayor of a town where one prepares the menus of the future space explorers.” *
Aerial is a Technical Institute for the food industry specializing, among others, in microbiological food safety and sensorial and nutritional food quality.
ISU is the world’s only university dedicated to space. It covers all aspects of space projects, therefore is also specialized in space life sciences.
The consortium with very complementary skills includes also a laboratory of the Fraunhofer Institute (Germany) specialized in yeasts and a French technical centre specialized in algae (CEVA).
The ISU responsible faculty for Human Performance in Space, Prof. G. Clement, is closely involved in this study and stated:
”While it won’t be foie gras, the results of this study will move us in the direction of developing new food sources that partially provide for the basic nutritional requirements of the astronauts, that are more practical and really won’t taste that bad…” *
Example of current space food and, in the background, algae
(credit: CEVA), potentially used in the « petits plats » for human space flights.
Aerial is, via this study, taking a new step in the world of space activities and very excited by this opportunity, as Dr. M.H. Desmonts, project manager, expresses it:
“Indeed, Aerial is also specialized in the field of food irradiation which is known as a technology used for preservation of space food, but this innovative study is for us and our partners the opportunity of a new approach to contribute to space missions. When one knows the incredible potential of algae and yeasts in terms of organoleptic and nutritional food supplies, one can imagine the interest of adapting them to space conditions. Why not having astronauts growing their own algae production in their spacecraft… or on Mars?” *
The study will run until the summer of 2013 and will among other issues examine the physiological acceptability by astronauts of algae and bacteria as food supplements during space missions. A questionnaire about the potential use of algae and bacteria as food and nutritional supplement during space missions will be prepared and distributed to the ISU community at large. The results of the survey should provide valuable inputs regarding the acceptability of the potential use of algae and microorganisms in the diet of the crew during long-duration space travel.
* The view expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency.