Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, April 18, 2008

Space Cook

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
Providing adequate life support is one of the big problems of Space exploration. The Space station has the ability to recycle some of its resources such as water but still depends on resupply. That option would be much more difficult for a Mars mission or a Moon base so NASA and other space agencies have been developing Advanced Life Support Systems . Such systems would use biological systems (plants) to provide essential consumables including food.

Now I know astronauts s like growing fruit and vegetables in Space, not only does it provide fresh food but it promotes their psychological wellbeing. However, I'm less certain they would enjoy food preparation. I certainly doubt they would have the time to make a good job of it. Call me a cynic and a sceptic if you like, but I fear after a few weeks of having engineers and pilots cooking they would produce something fit for Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. To prevent such horrors a Mission Nutrition Specialist is required ie: a cook.

Cooks have traditional been an essential members of exploratory expeditions. One of the most famous was Adolf Lindstrom. He was the cook for the great polar explorer Roald Amundsen and went on both the North West Passage and South Pole expeditions. Admundsen regarded Lindstrom as the most important member of his crew. He knew tasty nutritious meals would be essential for the crews morale and good health. The polar explorers hunted their meat and ate it undercooked to prevent scurvy, Lindstrom was a master at cooking undercooked meat.

The European Space Agency has done some research already:

Martian bread and green tomato jam', 'Spirulina gnocchis' and 'Potato and tomato mille-feuilles' are three delicious recipes that two French companies have created for ESA and future space explorers to Mars and other planets.

The challenge for the chefs was to offer astronauts well-flavoured food, made with only a few ingredients that could be grown on Mars. The result was 11 tasty recipes that could be used on future ESA long-duration space missions. ADF – Alain Ducasse Formation and GEM are the two French companies that produced the recipes, and their mutual experience in creating new products and ‘haute cuisine’ have led to excellent results........

"We are aiming initially at producing 40% locally for astronauts' food on future long-duration space missions, for example to Mars," says Christophe Lasseur, ESA's biological life-support coordinator responsible for recycling and production of air, water and food for long-term space missions.

"Why 40%? By growing enough plants to cover around 40% of what we eat, we also get 'for free' the oxygen and water needed to live", explains Lasseur.

The nine basic ingredients that Lasseur plans to grow on other planets are: rice, onions, tomatoes, soya, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, wheat and spirulina – all common ingredients except the last. Spirulina is a blue-green algae, a very rich source of nutrition with lots of protein (65% by weight), calcium, carbohydrates, lipids and various vitamins that cover essential nutritional needs for energy in extreme environments. ........

However in the actual Space environment chefs will need to contend with more then a limited choice of produce. If the habitat operates at lower atmospheric pressure then the boiling point of water is also reduced. Making a hot meal could be difficult. Open flame stoves are out so the microwave will be the main cooker. Microgravity causes its own problems. Astronauts have found they need extra spices to make food tasty and what was delicious on Earth can taste terrible in Space

So although it will be a while yet before Chef Ramsay opens a Lunar City restaurant I think theres a need to get some real chefs up there to do some experimental cooking.