NASA will pay up to $1 million to those who come up with new and sustainable food production concepts to feed astronauts in orbit, as the US space agency prepares to send astronauts deeper into space than ever before.
Giving future explorers the technology to prepare nutritious, pleasant, and gratifying meals while on long-duration space journeys will provide them with the energy they need to uncover the wide unknown.
NASA has established the 'Deep Space Food Challenge,' in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency, which invites teams to develop, build, and demonstrate prototypes of food production technology that offer actual nutritious items — or food.
"Feeding astronauts for extended periods of time within the restrictions of space travel will necessitate novel solutions," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. "Pushing the limits of food technology will keep future explorers healthy and may even help feed people here at home," he added in a statement.
Food loses nutritional value over time. That means that transporting pre-packaged food on a multi-year trip to Mars will not cover all of the needs for astronaut health. Phase 1 of the challenge concluded in October 2021, when NASA awarded $450,000 to 18 teams for their designs for novel food production technology that creates safe, acceptable, delicious, and nutritious food products.
NASA is now inviting new and existing teams to compete in Phase 2 for a prize fund of up to $1 million. "Everything required to store, prepare, and deliver food to the crew, including manufacturing, processing, transport, consumption, and waste disposal," NASA stated. It noted that proposed technologies such as plant growth systems, manufactured food products, and ready-to-eat solutions might give future crews with a choice of options for daily nutrition.